We Choose Personhood
A Journo I o-f F emale Liberation
The next day the women gathered in
a solemn conclave in the meeting hall.
"Our comrade, Gold Flower/ still suffers
the evil treatment of her husband/" said
Dark Jade. "Comrade Gold Flower's personal
affairs should be taken as the affairs of
all of us. Alone/ she cannot fight. But
with us she can fight all bad husbands.
Now/ are you ready to struggle?"
"Ready/" answered the crowd.
"All right/" said Dark Jade/ "we shall
first try to treat this bad husband by
reasoning with him. If this does not
succeed/ we shall no longer be polite."
The women drew up in ranks like soldiers.
Gold Flower went to a near-by room. As her
husband was led in, various shouts burst
from the crowd.
"We have turned over....You cannot treat
us badly or we will beat you to death....
Tell us the truth....No arguments....If you
are frank/ you will be treated better; if
not/ there will be no mercy."
Chang stood before the women listening
to their unfriendly greetings with a
strained air. "Comrade sisters/" he said/
"there has been some mistake. Do you know
why I married that woman? It was so she
could serve us and so she could keep alive.
Do you know how badly she has treated our
He looked about with an air of injured
"All right/" said a girl/ "tell us what
she did to your family."
Chang looked from one face to another,
and they were all closed against him. He
dropped his eyes in embarrassment. " I am
not acquainted with women turning over...."
A hiss went up from the crowd.
" Resolutely oppose that bad husband,"
shouted a girl.
China Shakes the World
the female state
A Journal of Female Liberation
Who Is Saying Men Are The Enemy?.
Speech Is the Form of Thought.
How We Are Lunatized.
Pass The Word.
Motherhood and the Subordination of
Females and Children.
Child-Care for the Child.
Women in the Soviet Union: A Brief Survey.
Women's Magazines and Womanhood, 1969:
Tell A Woman.
Abortion-A Woman's Decision or the Law's.
Within You and Without You.
Tarzan Had Long Hair Too.
Eve's Sex Under God's Law.
Why Can't Men Listen to Women?.
The Plea for Gradualism.
The Protection Hoax. %#(
Self Defense and the Preservation of Females.
Violence and Self Defense. %#
Using Self Defense.
On The Production of Women.
Friday Night Study Group Excerpts: April 3, 1970 %%#
Two Letters for Women.
371 Somerville Avenue, Somerville, Massachusetts, 02143
Gai 1 Murray.58
Indra Dean Allen.59
Dana Densmore. 66
Donna Allen. 86
Dana Densmore. 88
Betsy Warrior. 94
Jeanne Lafferty and Evelyn Clark..96
.Pat Galligan. 99
► Barbara Deck.105
►Janet Jones, Nancy Robbins and
► Hilary Langhorst.ill
► Dawn Warrior.116
vo 4 ^
WHO IS SAYING MEN ARE THE ENEMY?
The question "Are men the enemy?" has always struck
me as a curious one.
If enemies are perceived as that force against
which one does battle and against whom (having killed
off sufficient numbers) one wins, the concept is ob¬
It is clear to me that in its form "I object to
your attitude that men are the enemy" the issue is a
dishonest one: it is an attempted smear or a defensive
counterattack against the force of our analysis
(whether delivered by frightened men or frightened
It makes it appear that if we do anything but em¬
brace all men, whatever their individual attitude, as
our friends and allies, treating them as allies how¬
ever they treat us, if we so much as speak of men
generally as "our oppressors", then it must be that
we regard them as "enemies" in the sense of an op¬
ponent so all-powerful and implacable that he must be
killed in order to be neutralized.
Of course we couldn't kill off all men if we wanted
to, but the point is that it isn't necessary and we
all know it. It is the situation men and women find
themselves in, the structures of society and the
attitudes of women, that make it possible for men to
Given power and privileges, told by society that
these are not only legitimate but the essence of his
manhood, it is not surprising that a man should accept
an oppressor's role. But if women refused to co¬
operate, and if they demanded changes in the struc¬
tures, institutions and attitudes of society, then
men, whatever their desires, could not and therefore
would not oppress women.
An industrialist, seeking to maximize profits,
might wish to pay his human labor subsistence wages
rather than minimum legal or contract-negotiated wages
But laws, unions, and attitudes of the society about
social justice together prevent him from doing so.
The same would apply to men's oppression of women.
It could become illegal, impossible, and unfashionable
And it will.
The distinction is often made in the female liber-
ation movement between an "enemy" and an "oppressor"
The real enemy/ I think we all agree, is sexism and
male supremacy: a set of attitudes held by men and
women and institutionalized in our society ( and in
all societies throughout history).
The origin of these attitudes and institutions is
immaterial. Whether they were instituted by men act¬
ing out of fear of women or by society as a whole for
the survival of the species is irrelevant. Whether it
was some kind of "plot" or "just the way things
evolved" need not concern us. All we care about are
the conditions right now , because it is right now that
we propose to change. If traditional attitudes are
inappropriate or unjust today in our experience, then
they must be replaced.
I think we will learn more about the origins of
sexism, and what role men will play in the revolu¬
tion that will destroy it, by watching how men deal
with our call for liberation than by setting up a_
priori categories of enemy and ally.
Men clearly function as oppressors in a sexist
society. But it may be just the situation, something
they can't help. It may be because women permit and
even encourage such oppression. But if that is the
case, and men are innocent and well-meaning, then we
will see that demonstrated in their response to our
rejection of our role as victim and our criticism of
the institutions that cast men into the role of
They will probably be surprised at first, showing
the signs of being forced to think completely new
thoughts (e.g., maybe women are just as smart, maybe
it's not appropriate for them to live for "their
man", etc.). But, given encouragement, education,
and demonstrations of how strongly we feel, they will
declare themselves our allies.
They will not continue to ridicule us (if indeed
they ever did), they will not play dumb and demand
that the same thing be explained over and over as if
we had never said a word to them, they will not set
themselves up as an "enemy". They will show respect
for us as persons and for our cause as appropriate
In fact it turns out that men sort themselves out
into allies and "enemies".
A man who senses himself to be our "enemy" will say
certain things that reveal his attitude. One standard
approach of the less subtle school is "Why do you want
to kill off all the men?"
This man may be just attempting to smear you or the
movement. He may even couch it in pseudo-sympathetic
terms such as "I agree with you completely, but why
do you want to kill off all the men?" This is to
alarm all people standing around and to let you know
what sort of image the movement has (or will have when
he gets through shooting off his mouth) .
Or, he may just be making a bid for attention.
You've long since giving up discussing these issues
with men out of acute boredom, but he knows that by
throwing in something like this he can scare you into
defending your image, into protesting that you do not
want to kill off all the men. Once his foot is in the
door, he can trap you into a long conversation about
the merits of the movement and give you a great deal
of unsolicited advice about how you should really be
But sometimes this statement is made honestly, that
is, out of an honest fear. This sort of man reveals
his sense of his own enmity just as much as the
others. What he means is: "I will fight to the death
to maintain my privileges and my power; if you intend
to take them away from me you will have to kill me."
Another ploy, a little more subtle, is "Why do you
want to get rid of sex?" Again, this may be a smear,
a bid for attention, or an honest fear.
When it is an honestly felt fear, what he means is:
"I cannot conceive of sex / cannot be sexually interest¬
ed in a woman, unless I am in a superior-to-inferior,
active-to-passive, aggressor-to-victim relationship
with her. If you are going to insist that we must
approach each other as equals you will have destroyed
sex and you might as well demand permanent celibacy."
Such men set themselves up as enemies by their
actions and attitudes, but still it is inappropriate
for us_ to conceive of them as such. They are not
enemies. They are irrelevant. And they are foolish,
because they are going to lose in the end anyway, and
they have passed up their chance to be heroes .
If a man with whom we are involved emotionally acts
that way, naturally we will leave him, not to punish
him or strike back at him, but because we have impor¬
tant things to do and he is a drag (or worse). But
our work is with ourselves, with other women, and with
society as a whole, with the established, institution¬
alized attitudes of society.
It is demoralizing, self-defeating, and ultimately
boring to try to convert individual men who are deter¬
mined to hold on to their power (and a liberal man who
grants almost everything but is willing to fight
viciously for the last 2% of superiority can be even
more dangerous than the man who won't give at all).
And as far as killing the men — there are so many
self-styled enemies that the disposal of the bodies
alone would be a national problem, not to mention the
problem of "womanning" the slaughter houses when there
are so many more interesting things to do in a world
women are just discovering. It would be quite im¬
Fortunately, it is not necessary either to convert
or to kill all the would-be oppressors, however ready
they appear to be to defend their honor with their
lives. A majority can be oppressed by a minority only
with the assent of the victim, the belief by the
victim that she is inferior, that it is appropriate
that she be oppressed.
If the minds of the women are freed from these
chains, no man will be able to oppress any woman. No
man can, even now, in an individual relationship; all
the woman has to do is walk out on him. And ironi¬
cally enough, that is exactly what would force the
men to shape up fastest. Not very many men could
tolerate being deserted, especially over a political
issue. And all that's needed is for the woman to
learn enough respect for herself to be unwilling to
live with a man who treats her with contempt.
Men are not our "enemies" and we should refuse to
play "enemy" games with them. If they ridicule us or
try to smear us or isolate us, we must laugh and walk
out. "Winning rounds" with individual men will not
bring our final victory closer and cannot change
contempt and terror into a generous respect. Chal¬
lenges by individual women to individual men have
always been met the same way: threats, ridicule,
smears, repression. These are the prescribed ways for
men to defend their "manhood" against "castrating
Only the march of the whole movement can force
the deep re-evaluation that will enable such men to
adjust to the reality of women as people and learn to
deal in an adult way with their fears and insecuri¬
"...No genuine social revolution can be accomplish¬
ed by the male/ as the male on top wants the status
quo, and all the male on the bottom wants is to be the
male on top. The male 'rebel' is a farce; this is the
male's 'society/' made by him to satisfy his needs.
He's never satisfied, because he's not capable of
being satisfied. Ultimately/ what the male 'rebel'
is rebelling against is being male. The male changes
only when forced to do so by technology, when he has
no choice, when 'society' reaches the stage where he
must change or die. We're at that stage now; if
women don't get their asses in gear fast, we may very
well all die."
S .C.U.M. Manifesto
SPEECH IS THE FORM OF THOUGHT
with a new glossary
Sexism is so pervasive in human culture that even
the language reflects it.
And not just in superficial elements of vocabulary,
the way racism is revealed in the adjective "flesh -
colored" (the color of Band-Aids) and sexism in the
adjective "manpower" (when both sexes are providing
the power in question, and even when it is being pro¬
vided entirely by women*).
No, the most basic elements of our grammar are built
on it: case in point, the personal pronouns.
In most cases when the pronoun "he" is used, "he or
she" is really meant; often it is confusing not to be
able to express this. Does the speaker or writer mean
just "he" or does he or she really mean either? (The
"he or she" in the previous sentence refers to the in¬
dividual speaker or writer that was the subject of the
sentence. But observe my difficulty in this entirely
unpremeditated sentence. "He or she", when we are
talking about the expression "he or she", is extremely
confusing. But to repeat "speaker or writer" would
have been oppressively wordy. And "he", which I must
confess I wrote first, would have been seized upon
instantly by my hawk-eyed sisters in struggle. In
this context I can solve the problem by a long expla¬
nation about what the sentence really means and how I
come to use a confusing construction. In another con¬
text I would have been forced into a compromise with
awkwardness and inexactitude.)
The lack of a pronoun for "he or she" also forces
a distinction in the case of an individual whose sex
is not known or when the speaker would prefer not to
When members of a group which is 99% women are re¬
ferred to as "he" it may be startling, but when the
group is all women it can be disorienting. However,
it is often considered proper form to say "he" if there
is even a theoretical possibility that men might be
* "Menstrual pain accounts for an enormous loss of man¬
power hours." Erna Wright, Painless Menstral Periods ,
Hart Publishing Co., 1968.
The reasoning for this is very similar to our
reasoning here: to say "she" would discourage the
potential males. They might feel that the activity/
profession, etc. was not for them/ or that they would
be unimportant if they were present/ maybe unnoticed
amongst all the women.
It is not required to say "he" if there is no pos¬
sibility / even theoretical, that a male may be present
or included, such as in a girls' gym class or a ladies'
room. However, the habit is so deeply ingrained that
we are often startled, amused, or discomfitted to hear
it even then.
I have personally suffered the embarrassment of ad¬
dressing women in a female liberation karate class I
was teaching using the masculine pronoun. They were
astonished, outraged. But I wonder if they haven't
been caught in such automatic sexism when it was their
mouths which happened to be open. One must speak,
after all, and we only have one language. What can
we do if it's sexist?
It is amusing to watch the contortions into which
(other) speakers and writers must twist their statements
in order to deal with this intransigency of our lan¬
guage. Besides the ambiguous and often confusing "he','
there is the ungrammatical "they", the bulky "he or
she", the reworking of sentences into the passive tense
so as to avoid the use of the active subject, and the
repetition of the noun to avoid the problematical pro¬
Entertaining examples are always at hand. One radio
commercial, recruiting students for a computer training
course, states: "This is a good field for any man or
woman who wants to better himself." Now that sounds
startling, absurd, with the "him" following the "woman"
But "him- or herself" was obviously too bulky, and
anyway "him- or herself", though correct, has an odd
sound: they probably would have been forced to use the
ungrammatical but more familiar-sounding "his or her-
But on the other hand, they didn't want to say "...
for any person who wants to better himself" because
they realized that women would automatically exclude
themselves (or feel excluded) and they wanted women to
enroll in their course too.
Sometimes/ of course/ it is ambiguous whether women
are included and this ambiguity is useful because they
aren't. Or, women are included if you get technical,
but the speaker would rather not emphasize that (if
women can do it too, can it be so great?). Or they
are included, because otherwise it would be illegal,
but maybe if it appears solidly masculine they won't
A new set of words, explicitly asexual, could take
the teeth out of that sort of discriminatory state¬
ment by removing this ambiguity. Things would be ad¬
dressed to human individuals, where formerly the use
of "he" coupled with tradition exerted a chilling ef¬
fect on the exercise of rights. (It can't be proven
to be discriminatory, since after all, "he" does in¬
clude "she", doesn't it?—but it carries that conno¬
tation nonetheless because women know perfectly well
that sometimes it doesn't.)
What is the significance of this particular dif¬
ferentiation by sex, anyway? "They" is genderless.
And not only does that not cause confusion, it is a
lot easier (witness its frequent adoption for the
The first thing that strikes us when we turn our
attention to the singular is the three forms: he,
she, it. You couldn't prove i t, of course, but it
has the connotation of a hierarchy. "He", first, at
the top. "She", next, under him, midway between him
(man) and it (nature). And finally, "it", an inani¬
mate, nonsentient object.
The solution appears to be to follow the "they"
form, at least for personal pronouns. Let us be
generous and leave "it" if anyone wants it. (If no
one does, our asexual personal pronoun will do for
that as well.)
I have here a modest proposal for a new glossary
of personal pronouns.
Nominative case: she. "She" is appropriate for the
"he or she" usage because within the one word it con¬
tains both the old "he" and the old "she". It is
therefore the perfect universal nominative pronoun.
(I am conscious of the fact that the suggestion of
using the formerly feminine pronoun for the new asexu¬
al case is a radical one. It would undoubtedly cause
some confusion during the transition period. However,
I think that, in this case, that very confusion would
be healthy. If nothing else, it would show men how it
feels to have one's inclusion uncertain and permit
women a hint of what it feels like to live in a world
that is theirs .)
Objective case: herm. This includes ,, her ,, and "him".
(An alternative spelling with the same pronunciation
is "hirm". "Herm" is to be preferred, however, as it
has the connotation of "hermaphrodite", a word for
beings with both male and female sexual organs. This
connotation will help smooth the transition period
while we get used to the new word.)
Possessive case: heris. This will be used for "hers
or his", including both words both in the spelling
and in the sound.
In addition to sounding very much like the old
words, and being explicitly singular (avoiding the
ambiguity that would arise if we merely adopted the
word "they" for all uses) , these new words are very
short, both written and spoken, comparable to the
Only "heris" is longer than the old word (two syl¬
lables instead of one) , but in practical speech it
will probably sound like one syllable, like our cur¬
rent word "hers" only with the "s" at the end a soft
"s" rather than a "z" sound.
The old words will have to be scrapped entirely. If
it is necessary for some reason to specify sex, it will
have to be done deliberately. All pipe joints and
electrical connectors are "it"s, and if it is relevant
whether a particular one is male or female, that must
be specified as an adjective to the noun.
The point about the old words being scrapped entire¬
ly is a crucial one. It is implied in the fact that
in one case I have chosen for our new asexual pronoun
a word (she) that formerly denoted one of the sexual
There has been some question about this issue. The
reaction of a friend to whom I showed this article in
its first draft was that it was good to enrich the
language by adding new words, but undesirable to take
away precision by retiring the old ones.
I thought a great deal about this issue myself as
I was formulating this proposal. But my conclusion
was that it is essential to actually replace the sexu¬
al pronouns as being so offensive in principle that
what usefulness they had could not justify their re¬
I gave the example of male and female electrical
connections, for which the pronoun is not differen¬
tiated. Let me give a political example now. Suppose
racism was so long established that there were dif¬
ferent personal pronouns for white and nonwhite. Sup¬
pose "he" specified a white person, "se" a black per¬
There would be a certain usefulness to this dis¬
tinction, which would probably be even more useful to
blacks, who must constantly talk about whites and dis¬
tinguish by race, since race affects their lives so
much. (To whites who live in a white world, it
wouldn't be as necessary; they rarely have occasion
to mention blacks at all.)
However, it would not surprise us very much if
black people felt bitter that they were considered
so different, so alien, as to require a different
pronoun. We would not shed tears over the precision
that was being lost to the language if the racist
word were dropped entirely. And if we did shed such
tears, it would be taken as racism (we really want
to be able to differentiate clearly that way) mas¬
querading as an effete, precious concern for the
No, in that case we would recognize that human suf¬
fering and human dignity are far more important than
maintaining a discriminatory precision.
While we are at this, nouns will have to be dealt
with too. It seems that it is probably useful to
maintain adjectives with the meanings "male" and
"female" for when the distinction is relevant, but
nouns should be desexualized. Perhaps we can take
"woman" to mean "man or woman" since it contains
both, or perhaps we could learn to use "human", "per¬
son", and "people" as our asexual nouns.
The discrimination-by-connotation in the use of
"man" for "man or woman" is even more flagrant than
in the case of the personal pronouns.
Employment advertisements blare: "We want a man
who...." unless of course they want keypunch opera¬
tors , secretaries, or receptionists.
And then there are the pronouncements "Man is....
[supply various statements about the nature of man¬
kind, some of which you might like to emulate if you
thought you were allowed]". The same sort of state¬
ments are made in the form "A man.... [what he is or
what he may do or should do] .
If you make a study of statements like these it
turns out that with a few exceptions what they actu¬
ally mean by "man" is the male of the species with
the understanding that the female goes along as wife
or daughter, similar to the old idea that women didn't
need to vote because she had a man to vote for her,
and the current idea that a married woman doesn't
need credit because she has her husband's.
Sometimes it turns out not to include women at all,
as in a statement I once read to the effect that "Man
crawled out of the primordial ooze, conquered nature,
and then set about conquering the female." This was
the prelude to a rather serious article about man the
species and how he lived and developed.
I noticed the opening wording, of course, but I
think that in general we understand well enough that
"man" means "men" that we could read that opening
statement and the rest of the article (in which "man"
means "men plus their families") without finding it
too strikingly absurd.
Unlike the case of the personal pronouns, we do
have asexual nouns already (human, person, people) ,
and they are used at times.
But they will have to be used more, even if they
sound strange or strained. That is to be expected.
The language wasn't constructed around concepts like
"person", a word that can include man and woman with¬
out differentiation, as if they were the same class
of beings. And we don't think of them that way now.
That's why it sounds strange.
But just as racists who really don't think black
kids are the same species as white kids can be forced
to send them off to schools together as^ if_ they were
the same, sexists (all of us) can be forced to speak
a£ if_ men and women are the same species, to be re¬
ferred to without discrimination as a "person".
Androcentric language is first a symptom of sexism,
but it also reinforces it and permits abuses such as
subtly shutting women out. To the extent that it is
a symptom, enforcing these changes will not abolish
sexism. But it would raise consciousness and permit
women to begin to feel that they are not a different
species, not, in fact, a useful afterthought lodged
between man and nature.
Women are one-half the world, but until a century ago,
..women lived a twilight life, a half life apart,
and looked out and saw men as shadows walking. It was
a man's world. The laws were men's laws, the govern¬
ment a man's government, the country a man's country.
Now women have won the right to higher education and
economic independence. The right to become citizens
of the state is the next and inevitable consequence of
education and work outside the home. We have gone so
far; we must go farther. We cannot go back.
M. Carey Thomas, 1908
HOW WE ARE LUNATIZED
(Note: The verb To Lunatize fulfills the need for a
word which means to cast aspersions on one's sanity,
to make one feel crazy or doubt the legitimacy of one's
position. This word becomes necessary as we begin to
see more clearly and attempt to articulate the extent
of the psychology that binds us to our oppression. The
subtle nature of our oppression is revealed in the fact
that we are lunatized; we are treated affectionately,
as darling pets to be tolerated and never taken ser¬
iously until we begin to effect some change. Then we
are dangerous "crazies" (witches) who must be wiped
out or somehow not dealt with at all. This word is
especially accurate as it pertains to women's oppres¬
sion, for luna, the Latin word for moon, has been
associated with women throughout many cultural myths.
Women are said to be governed by the phases of the
moon. The goddess Hecate, ruler of witchcraft and
sorcery, and Diana the sorceress represented different
aspects of the moon. Throughout history, women who
have not accepted their given role have been termed
witches. Man had to create an alternate, evil myth
for women who would not be ruled.)
Perhaps one of our greatest problems as women has
been our inability to respect ourselves or the legi¬
timacy of our positions. It's served as one of the
strongest forces keeping women in subjegation. The
superiority of men is expounded and reinforced in every
aspect of our lives. We all believe it so fundamen¬
tally that we cringe at the sight of a member of our
sex defying the order of nature. She becomes a bitch,
Amazon or lesbian in our eyes, obnoxious and revolt¬
ing for stepping out of the role assigned her. As
long as we attempt to assume positions of male autho¬
rity or individually protest our status as women, we
will be degraded in the same way. For we will be
freaks, misfits in a man's world that maintains the
male-dominated power relations. Only if women as a
group assert feminism at every level can there be
hope for substantial change.
At the same time it's becoming clear that we can
only trust our own inclinations. The backlash has
the weight and "evidence" of centuries of patriarchy
and the "proof" of all "civilized" cultures that our
protest is crazy. All laws, attitudes, values and
traditions have been created by men. We can be sure
that they won't encourage us to define or seek our
true potential or question the values which so serve
their purposes. Yet we know we're on the right track
when we see the violent opposition we receive to even
the weakest expression of our doubts.
The tactic of dehumanizing and lunatizing the op¬
position or anyone who questions is an attempt to mask
a defensive, superficial and fearful reaction. The
reaction comes from terror that the oppressed might
rise up and assert the immorality of their oppression.
The oppressor's strength would be pulled out from under
him. Men have developed entire civilizations based
on their fear of woman. Rather than work through their
fear in a rational or constructive way, they have
chosen two mechanisms to deal with women. First, men
must dominate. If they are denied this channel, they
refuse to face women altogether. And this is how men
react when confronted with the beginning of women's
protest. They laugh hysterically. Liberals have
learned to make sarcastic cut-downs. Either method is
geared toward devaluing the protest. They serve not
only to make women question their legitimacy, but also
to allow men to continue to feel on top of the situ¬
ation. Yet if one examines either the laughter or the
sarcasm, one finds a great deal of true hysteria. Men
have given a superficial response to a situation they
can't begin to cope with. Most "strength" and height¬
ened ego they have has been built, strengthened and
maintained by the daily gratification they receive
from the oppression of women. Even to comment on
women's appearance (girl-watching) is to assert a po¬
sition of authority and to assume that one's approba¬
tion is desired. Most men's strength is based on the
superficial gratification they receive from the pres¬
ence of women. For women to deny them the slightest
privileges is to threaten their entire definition. For
men have defined themselves in terms of those qualities
they deny (yet exert over) women. And they have refused
any part of those qualities by which they define women.
So men respond by laughing, a tactic intended to reduce
women to a whimpering state of inarticulateness.
In the past, because most of the protest women
voiced was individual and personal, they felt illegi-
timate. They believed not only that their doubts were
unfounded but that they were less desirable women for
having voiced them. But now women are beginning to
continue their protests. On a mass scale, we find the
same tactics used against us. Leftist groups debate
over the place they should accord the woman's movement
in their revolution. Yet we also see the alternative
escape being used. Many men, when confronted by women
on the street who are unobliging to their comments,
requests or rapes, have simply turned and fled!! If
for no other reason than men's frenzied reactions we
know our assertions are hitting vital weak spots.
Yet we have been lunatized in an even more fundamen¬
tal way. We haven't believed in the historical or
scientific cause of our emotionality. Sexism, having
created in us intense emotional poles, has turned
and used this phenomenon as further evidence of our
biological inferiority. The roots of our boredoms as
well as our rages and depressions lie in our inability
to adjust to a life that refuses to concede our human¬
Women's boredom with men's activities and concerns
has been received with gentility. Men "honor" women's
complaints with a nod and a wink amongst themselves.
Of course the "little lady" wouldn't be interested in
such matters. It's far better that she remain at home
and concern herself with her own activities (which for
her should prove far more stimulating) . But when we
investigate why these matters are boring to her, we
find clues to the subtle nature of sexism. Boredom
can be a reaction to irrelevancy or dogmatism. Men's
activities can't help but be irrelevant to women.
Women know that nothing men discuss will greatly affect
their lives. The only things that would affect women's
lives, i.e. changes in the sex roles, will only come
about through the efforts of women anyway. Certainly
men, who superficially profit so much from the sex
roles as they exist, will not choose to discuss or
change them. Men's concerns rest with preserving their
superior status and proving their importance to the
world, if not with directly asserting their desire to
be on top. These dogmatic assertions stem from in¬
security. Female liberation does not entail simply
depriving men of their superficial identities. It
asserts the necessity for men and demands the freedom
for women to define themselves in terms of concrete
achievements, creativity and humane relations with
others. Woman's boredom has assured both men and
women of woman's inferior mental capacities. But as
we account for our boredom, we will demand that all
discussion and change be relevant to us. We will also
demand the fulfillment of more humane values and con¬
cerns. Personal definitions will be based on indivi¬
dual creativity and contribution rather than dogmatic
assertions and gestures symbolic of a superior caste
With no outlet for creative energies or for the re¬
sulting rage and confusion, we have often fallen into
depressions. In the past we have seen no possibili¬
ties of integrating our desires and potentials with
the expectations and duties of women. Attempts at
personal solutions or escapes have, at best, brought
us to situations confronting more sophisticated sexism.
But in the future we will learn to interpret these
symptoms as confrontations directly or elusively with
the narrow possibilities of the past. We will believe
in the justification of our exasperation to the point
that we fight fundementally all assertions of male
"BOREDOM: Life in a 'society' made by and for
creatures who, when they are not grim and depressing
are utter bores, can only be, when not grim and de¬
pressing, an utter bore."
PASS THE WORD
Many people seem to avoid using the word female
out of a sense of propriety, as if it were not quite
polite. Some people wince when it is used. It is
true that the word female has been used against us
in the past by people whose imperfect perceptions
told them that to strip away the social trappings
that constitute the finished product known as '’woman”
would be to leave only a weak and sniveling creature,
the embodiment of evil, a blot on the face of humanity
Since we disagree with this analysis our acceptance
of the term comes from a different starting point. We
found that the words male and female had separate
origins. (This can be seen in the Latin roots femina
and masculus) . We used the word female at first for
the obvious purpose of differentiating between our¬
selves and the so-called opposite sex. But we also
discovered that female easily becomes an adjective,
as in female people, female children, female doctor
etc., thereby implying that one's genital arrangement
is not necessarily what best describes one at all
times. It is more scientific to be able to distinguish
between instances when one's femaleness is essential
and when it is auxiliary. This is not so easily done
with the word woman, although there have been reported
attempts made in this direction by people who cling to
their blind distrust of so naked a concept as female.
It might be more sensible to question the word
woman, which has more social implications and innuen¬
dos. It often implies that to fulfill the require¬
ments of one's sex is an achievement rather than a
given biological fact. Somewhere in the process of
striving for the rewards offered to "good women" we
became aware of our humiliating role as men's willing
victims, and that to be a woman meant to dress and act
the part of a clown. How then could the simple biolo¬
gical designation of female be more embarrassing than
the social definition of woman?
It should be borne in mind that it wasn't until a
few years after the inception of the civil right move¬
ment that Black people discarded the term "Negro" as
a suitable definition for themselves. But this re¬
jection, when it came, was a powerful expression of
the radical changes that Blacks had begun to bring
about in all aspects of their lives.
It is becoming painfully clear that the word liber¬
ation in reference to our movement is rapidly being
replaced by a small, enigmatic three letter invention
(lib) which makes its way into headlines, articles,
leaflets, speeches and into our everyday language.
An explanation of this annoying practice is long past
due. Those who have thought once about it present
this usage in terms of economy and convenience. What
is difficult however, is an explanation of why these
efficiency experts waited so long to save on the word
liberation. Perhaps the National Liberation Front is
more easily converted to the NLF, but what about the
Black Liberation movement? And certainly Third World
Liberation is enough of a mouthful to warrant modifi¬
cation. It would appear that the substitution of lib
for liberation is more an attempt at diminution rather
than abbreviation, a lessening rather than a shortening.
Such was the case with the predominant use of suffra¬
gette in place of the traditional (respected) suffra¬
gist. It could be that those who favor such reductions
feel that it makes the concept easier to swallow. This
depends entirely on who is doing the swallowing.
The word liberation signifies to us freedom from
oppressive social relations, sexual humiliation, fear
and daily outrages and indignities which are our lives.
The word liberation, because of its reference to all
oppressed peoples. Blacks, Orientals, Third World and
Working Class people, constantly relates our movement
to these others. It shows lack of respect and serious¬
ness about the Female Movement not to use this word in
all its strength and dignity.
My wish is to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill
the sharks, I want to drive the enemy away to save
our people. I will not resign myself to the usual
lot of women who bow their heads and become concubines.
Trieu Thi Trinh
"MOTHERHOOD" AND THE SUBORDINATION OF FEMALES AND
Traditionally women have been expected to have sole
responsibility for child—raising• Until cjuite recent
ly a woman could escape the bearing of children only
by sexually isolating herself from men (as nuns did) ,
or by submitting to an operation to destroy the fetus
or to prevent conception from ever occurring. Con¬
traceptive devices have made it possible for a female
to choose whether or not to breed. The unmarried
girl and the wife taking the pill feel freer than
their mothers did to decide what they want to do.
Why is it then that women of all classes still have
child after child? With no other alternative of mak¬
ing a living, the majority of women inevitably attempt
to find financial support for themselves by producing
and caring for a man's children. Marriage may not be
an economic necessity for a woman with a decent-paying
job, but her status as wife and mother protects her
from mistreatment by society (other males) and from
some of the loneliness and worthlessness she feels as
The struggle to give a child life is not enough; a
woman must give herself up to feeding, clothing and
training it. A mother is occupied 24 hours of the day
Whatever part of her mind is not totally absorbed in
the process of the child’s growth is stunted by the
lack of any other companionship or information than
that which is given to women-and-children as a unit.
Her maternal service is understood to have moral but
not economic value; that is, by doing this work, a
female does not contribute as a single person to the
whole of society - she only contributes to the family
in which her personality and the child's are submerged
She obtains her significance by way of her husband,
the child's father. A woman on welfare is required to
relate to the state in the same way. If a father
abandons his child, he is condemned for not providing
the money to feed and clothe the child. When a mother
leaves her child, she not only is denying it financial
support, but "love" - that is, the 24 hour attention
that is basic to its survival. (This censure may be
escaped if the new-born infant is immediately trans¬
ferred to the care of a foster-mother.) If she has a
job that takes her out of the home/ she must make some
arrangement to substitute a friend's, a relative*s, or
a condescending husband's attention.
Many families depend on the earnings of a working-
mother , but, even when essential, her contribution is
always in question. Not merely because she earns less
than a man, but because she can not be the image of
the competent mother. The church, laws, schools and
the media reinforce the age-old idea that a woman's
life is unnatural and meaningless unless focused upon
a man or a child. In either case she exists to
provide service. It is inevitable that the frustra¬
tions of the unequal male-female relationship, ground¬
ed in the contradiction between master and slave,
direct a woman to depend on her protective relation to
children. A poor woman, who understands very well
that she has no "creative control" over her children's
lives once they are old enough to walk, can find her¬
self again and again in the new little child. Middle-
class women are encouraged to realize themselves in
creatively structuring their children's environment;
they are taught to involve themselves in choosing
styles of behavior, styles of education. These choices
(privileges) are contrasted with the obvious control
poverty has over the behavior and education of poor
children and are made to seem an essential part of
being a "good mother". The satisfaction a woman has
of making some decisions for her children, disguises
the fact that females have no real power to define
the conditions of their own and their child's reality;
these conditions have been brought about and altered
by fathers and husbands.
Every woman struggles with the ambivalent way that
society (i.e. men) sees her? men can not love those
whom they oppress. The privacy and exclusiveness of
the middle-class family keep a woman from so easily
understanding that, no matter how well she can manage
to arrange for a child, she is subject to the bottom¬
less suspicion men have about the "goodness" of those
whose physical and psychic being they have need to
exploit. At the same time that certain feminine
qualities are extravagantly praised, women are blamed
for society's failure to create healthy children.
A child is considered to be derived from two par¬
ticular people and to have to belong to them unless
legally adopted by someone else. Society has declared
the vulnerability and weakness of the infant, but the
physical protection and consistency of environment
that are basic conditions for healthy growth have been
established only in private families.
Along with real attention, it is assumed that a
child grows psychologically by accepting or rejecting
the personal interactions between its parents. Even
when this imitating of the mother-father model has
obviously damaged and distorted the child's behavior,
it is assumed that a better model of parental behavior
ought to have been provided. It is not considered
that every mother is affected by her secondary nature
as female and by her supportive function as wife,
nurse, maid, babysitter. It is clear that a child
feels oppressed by all the work that is done for it by
this one person and by the emotional payment that a
mother may ask for her security. Her unequal situa¬
tion in marriage directly affects the child's feelings
toward her. The child is not understood to have a
right to demand of society the type of situation and
the experience that would insure its health and in¬
Within the family, the child is subordinate to the
father and the mother. It has no independent status,
except as the parents will grant it the possibility
to be someone they have not imagined. They have power
to determine who and what their child is at any moment.
It is inevitable that a child who wants to protest its
helplessness must use some form of open rebellion or
of secret withdrawal.
This institutionalized dependency of the child
keeps it close to the parent most directly concerned
with it - its mother. It is approved for a woman to
find a new world, an external satisfaction in the
growing consciousness of her baby. But because this
maternal affection is historically inseparable from
the subordination of females to males, and the sub¬
ordination of children to adults, for the needs of
adults, the child is from the very first exploited by
that affection, which does not acknowledge it to be
an independent person in its own right. It is no
accident that women are brutalized by men, and
children by parents. Affection has been used as power
and is based on the maintenance of weakness and
dependency by any means. When "loving" treatment does
not produce obedience, a beating will. It is neces¬
sary for women to become autonomous - not to be used
and abused by men for their purposes - and not to
create or dominate children. Children have protested
individually and suffered isolated deprivation; they
too have potential collective strength to demand their
right to physical and mental health.
"Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow
hips, and are more understanding than women, who have
but small and narrow chests, and broad hips, to the
end that they should remain at home, sit still, keep
house, and bear and bring up children."
"In personal relationships with both women and
blacks, white men generally prefer a less professional
and a more human relation, actually a more paternalis¬
tic and protective position somewhat in the nature of
patron to client in roman times, and like the corres¬
ponding strongly paternalistic relation of later feu¬
dalism. As in Germany it is said that every gentile
has his pet jew, so it is said in the south that every
white has his pet black, or in the upper strata, se¬
veral of them. We sometimes marry the pet women,
carrying out the paternalistic scheme. But even if
we do not, we tend kindly with her as a client and a
ward, not as a competitor and equal..."
Alva Myrdal-in An American Dilemma
CHILD-CARE FOR THE CHILD
The primary reason that we are concerned with the
development of child-care facilities is that we feel
there's a desperate necessity for a more humane means
of raising children in order to free mothers and child¬
ren alike. Also, every child must be provided with
adequate nutritional/ medical and educational facili¬
ties. When children are reared privately there is no
guarantee that these needs will be met. In this "af¬
fluent society" too many children aren't even provided
with basic necessities. Most of the opposition that
we have received has been concerned that child-care
centers would deprive children of the individual atten¬
tion and love that they so greatly need. Yet although
the family ideal may have at one time provided for
these needs, it has no longer been able to fulfill this
Raising children is the sole occupation of many
women. This could be an extremely rewarding and crea¬
tive occupation if the culture regarded it as such and
provided facilities to allow the fulfillment of crea¬
tive energies. But because women as a group have no
choice in the raising of children, it thus becoming
"women's work"/ it has become a degraded occupation.
Degradation is inherent when one doesn't have a choice.
Even if women were to overcome the psychological bar¬
riers involved in making other choices/ there are no
alternative institutions for the raising of children.
Once married/ women begin to feel stranded in a situa¬
tion they have no control over. This culture has made
it extremely difficult for women to choose not to bear
children/ what with unsafe contraception/ rigid abor¬
tion laws and the loathed image of the unfertile woman.
Raising children can't help but become a resented oc¬
cupation when it involves 24 hour a day responsibility.
A great deal of frustration, anger and creative energy
with no outlet must be either suppressed or find de¬
structive outlets. Under these conditions of implied
hostility the child does not receive much love and
affection. Most mothers exert tyrannical authority
over their children because it's the only form of
authoritative power they are allowed to hold. The
child needs individual love and attention. Only in a
situation where those around her are free to provide
for these needs/ and have chosen to fulfill this func¬
tion because they love children, will the child receive
this love without conflict.
In a family situation one also finds that for the
most part the child is submitted to the whims of the
one or two parents. If the parents are pre-occupied
with other problems, in bad spirits or can't give their
time to the child, she will experience it emotionally
as a lack of affection or in some cases as outright re¬
jection. This can't help but be a destructive situa¬
tion. Parents have to be free to place their personal
needs first. Yet it's only natural that the child re¬
act negatively. The only way that the contradiction
can be resolved is if the child is cared for by more
people- men and women who have chosen to care for
children during a portion of their lives as an occupa¬
tion that they enjoy and want to learn from while
If a child is exposed to more influences than those
of her parents, she will remain open to different kinds
of life-styles. It is a great deal more humane to
provide a child with a greater number of life-styles
and moralities from which to choose. Obviously, less
possibilities are offered by two parents who have made
similar basic choices (or with whom his choice domin¬
ates) . Parents have made fundamental choices for their
children simply by not allowing that other possibili¬
ties be available to them. They offer only one or two
life-styles with which to identify, rather than a wider
choice or the possibility of identifying with a commun¬
Oppression can be defined not only by the inability
of a group of people to make free choices but also by
the fact that they are defined by someone other than
themselves. In this culture, children as well as women
and blacks are not given the opportunity to define
themselves. They sense when very young that if they
don’t accept the definitions of themselves that their
parents have given them, that they will not receive
the approbation they so greatly need. Children must
be presented with a variety of self-definitions from
which they can choose freely. In this way, the course
of their maturity will be characterized by their
efforts toward narrowing many possibilities to those
they wish to pursue.
Another argument against child-care centers has been
that they would deprive the child of needed continuity
in her life. The assumption is, of course, that the
continuity provided by her parents is a desirable one.
The only continuity they provide is in their life
choices. And we see children all the time fighting
these choices, attempting to assert other choices, or
being hurt by their parents' insistence that these
choices must be followed. Parents' presence provides,
in a sense, a superficial continuity. Children must
be encouraged to establish inner continuity based on a
growing establishment of what they want their lives to
be. This is only possible if they feel free to do so,
knowing that the choice hasn't already been made for
One is often astonished by the insight and frankness
of very young children. Very often their clear¬
headedness can provide humane solutions to seemingly
complex problems. Children can afford to be open and
truthful and give conscientious and constructive
thought to all issues for they have not yet made their
choices. They are the only group of people who don't
have vested interests in maintaining things a certain
way or in seeing things occur in preconceived patterns.
This becomes clouded because they are pressured to make
given choices too early, not having gone through the
processes of self-definition. The pressure arises from
an intense desire for the approbation of those around
them. They sense that to receive approbation from
their parents, they must fulfill their parents' expec¬
tations of them. Subconsciously they make fundamental
choices. If children were instead encouraged to take
responsibility for their own decisions, they could
maintain an honest and open evaluation of situations
confronting them. This could lead to an extraordinary
process of maturation producing adults concerned with
establishing the truth, providing for the moral and
the humane and contributing to the establishment of a
culture that meets the needs of all.
It means a great deal to children to be treated "as
adults". In a child-care center, children and adults
of all ages could learn from each other. They would
regard each other as individuals needing varying kinds
of attentions rather than as persons with pre-conceived
functions or pre-established needs. Children would
have as great a voice in determining their futures as
those around them. In this way, feeling personal res¬
ponsibility for their lives, children would be encour¬
aged in finding the best possible means of integrating
their wishes with reality. If this process were en¬
couraged in all humans from such an early age, one
can’t help but envision the development of an extra¬
The idea that children are the future of the couple
(of the man) and should be the responsibility of the
couple (the woman) rather than the society as a whole
serves only men’s interests. In the animal kingdom
the survival of the species rather than the survival
of the individual has been nature's ruling concern.
The young are cared for in the most efficient way pos¬
sible and then leave their "parents" to fend for them¬
selves. In many "primitive" cultures we see the child¬
ren cared for communally-the responsibility as well as
the rewards of child-rearing belonging to the culture
as a whole. The importance of the private raising of
children lies in the services it performs for the male.
The family institution ensures that men aren't respon¬
sible for the drudgery involved in raising kids pri¬
vately. Women take care of that. Yet children (most¬
ly male children, the more important) are the future
of the husband—his immortality. That's why they must
follow his footsteps—carry on his occupation or con¬
cern for him. His sons will carry on the "family"
name—his name. And they will inherit the "family"
property—mostly his. This insures that man's fear of
death can be dealt with. He never really dies as long
as his children are perpetuated in his image. We have
seen what this security for the male has done for the
women and children.
"A true community consists of individuals-not mere
species members, not couples-respecting each other's
individuality and privacy, at the same time interact¬
ing with each other mentally and emotionally-free spi¬
rits in free relation to each other-and co-operating
with each other to achieve common ends. Traditional¬
ists say the basic unit of ’society' is the family?
'hippies’ say the tribe? no one says the individual."
Valerie Solanas S.C.U.M. Manifesto
WOMEN IN THE SOVIET UNION: A BRIEF SURVEY
... never crying,
everything on her back
and everything double—a woman*s loti
N. Panchenko Obeliski
When most westerners think of Russian women, they
think either of "unglamorous" Amazons who lay bricks
and drive tractors, or of wistful creatures, tenta¬
tively tasting the first fruits of Western wickedness—
lipstick and miniskirts—and yearning for more. Either
image reflects the preconceptions of the almost exclu¬
sively male western press corps through whose eyes we
see Soviet society.
The reality, of course, is quite different. As in
all socialist countries, women have been freed from
constant preoccupation with maternity and child care
by free health care, including abortions, day care
centers, and paid maternity leaves. But this alone,
is not enough.
Women must play a free and equal part in the pro¬
ductive labor of a society. There must be an end to
the oppressive dominance of woman by man.
Communist ideology has always strongly emphasized
the importance of this. "The social progress of any
country can be measured by the condition of its women",
said Marx. And his words were echoed by Lenin in his
pamphlet "Women and Society": "The proletariat cannot
achieve complete freedom, unless it achieves complete
freedom for women."
Thus, for women, the Russian Revolution (which began
on International Women’s Day) was a double revolution,
for it opened up the possibility of a radical change
in their status, a real attempt to achieve full equal,
Right after the Bolshevik Revolution, a sweeping
attack on all aspects of inequality was made. The
patriarchal family structure was a main target. Laws
decreed equal employment rights for women, and the
needs of pregnant women, and women with many children
were provided for. Legal abortion became a reality in
1920. And the government sought to shift primary re-
sponsibility for child care and domestic chores from
the individual woman to communal facilities. Experi¬
ments with communal dining were common.
In the 1930*5, under Stalin, some of these gains
were wiped away. There was new emphasis on the family
—part of the general paternalism of the Stalin era.
A government decree in 1936 made abortions illegal, and
tightened up requirements for both marriage and divor¬
ce. The Family Law of 1944 continued the move in this
direction, by giving legal sanction only to registered
marriages, outlawing paternity suits (marking a revival
of the notion of illegitimacy), making divorce subject
to costly and complicated judicial procedures, glori¬
fying motherhood (the Hero Mothers), and taxing all
unmarried persons of childbearing age, or married
people with small families.
In the post-Stalin period, there has been some im¬
provement. Soon after Khrushchev took power, abortions
were legalized again, and the tax on unmarrieds and
parents of small families was abolished. In 1968,
divorce procedures for childless couples were immensely
simplified, though they remain complex for couples with
But law is only part of the picture. Since the
Revolution, women have participated in almost every
important sector of Soviet life. Today 73% of all
doctors, 60% of all economists and statisticians, 67%
of all teachers and 30% of all engineers are women.
Soviet women make up 56% of all agricultural workers
and 48% of all non-agricultural workers.
Still, problems remain. Most positions of leader¬
ship are held by men. The prestige professions—
physics, surgery, college teaching, the upper echelons
of the party—are male-dominated. The patriarchal
family structure remains. Although in most families,
both the mother and father work, household chores are
still considered the responsibility of the woman. And
these chores take a far greater amount of time than
they do in the West, for Russian women don’t have ac¬
cess to supermarkets or the vast range of household
conveniences developed to pacify the American housewife.
Child rearing is also considered a primarily female
task. Day care centers are staffed almost exclusively
by women. And there have even been articles suggesting
that women ought to be paid to be mothers—to stay home
and raise children as a means of combatting the low
Soviet birth rate. V. Perevedintsev, writing in the
Literaturnaya Gazeta , the newspaper of the Soviet
Writer*s Union/ provoked a storm of debate over such
Many women wrote in to protest. This excerpt from
a letter by C. Berezovskaya/ a lawyer, criticizes the
dual role that Soviet women are supposed to play. In¬
stead of removing women from the labor force, why not
probe other alternatives, she asks:
why leave out such a perfectly realistic, just
solution, one requiring no additional state ex¬
penditure, and providing an outlet for reserve
labor, as having men take upon themselves half
the household duties now considered woman's work?
Perhaps then, these chores will stop being so
overwhelming. Life today is sufficiently mech¬
anized that, given the division of labor in half,
it wouldn't be that difficult to handle. And
the psychological feeling of humiliation and
second-rateness so common to women would no longer
be there. Why so lightly dismiss this option in
all the discussion about the participation of
women in the life of our society?
With the ratio between men and women becoming more
equal (in 1959, there were 20 million more women than
men in the Soviet Union—the result of enormous World
War II losses) , it is clear that there will be further
attacks on the position of women in Soviet society.
It is also clear that Soviet women will not give up
their productive role without a fight. This is evident
from the angry response to the Perevedintsev article.
What, then, is the situation of Soviet women over
50 years after the Revolution? Although the gap be¬
tween ideology and reality is great, there is no ques¬
tion but that the Russians are better off than their
American counterparts. The fact that most work means
that they are not caught in the bind of the traditional
American housewife, not forced to identify themselves
solely as Mother. Nor are they like American single
girls, for they do not define themselves in terms of
some present or future dream man. The Soviet women I
met had a sense of themselves rare in American women.
Many were living separately from their husbands in
order to pursue their careers. Others challenged
traditional notions of the family by having children
out of wedlock and raising them themselves.
The women bricklayers in the Soviet Union then,
are hardly symbols of oppression. The real oppression
lies in the stereotype of woman as weak and helpless,
unfit for hard work (unless she is poor or black), and
it is against this that women everywhere must fight.
A peculiar condition of women is that their environ¬
ment has been almost wholly that of the home; and the
home is the most ancient of human institutions; the
most unalterably settled in its ideals and convictions;
the slowest and last to move...The world of science
and invention may change; art, religion, government
may change; industry, commerce and manufacturing may
change; but women and the home are supposed to remain
as they are, forever...The economic position of women
in the world heretofore has been that of the domestic
servant...Domestic service is the lowest grade of
labor remaining extant. It belongs to an earlier so¬
cial era... It is a low position in this mighty world
so complex and stirring, so full of noble activities,
to earn no higher place than was open to the slave of
countless centuries ago, but it is a far lower posi¬
tion to be fed and clothed as a sex-dependent, a crea¬
ture without economic usefulness. This economic de¬
pendence is the underlying ground of the helplessness
of women...No human creatures can be free whose bread
is in other hands than theirs.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Economic Basis of the Woman Question, 1898
WOMEN'S MAGAZINES AND WOMANHOOD, 1969
The women's magazines are full of advice on how a
woman can be successful as a woman. This means as a
wife, as a mother, as a cook, as a seamstress, as an
Perhaps the most important concern to the reader is
her marriage, and almost as many articles are devoted
to telling her how to save or improve her marriage and
keep her man interested and at home as are devoted to
The quantity alone of this advice says something
about the political situation men and women find them¬
selves in. There is no comparable volume of litera¬
ture instructing men in how to hold on to their wives,
how to protct their wives' egos, how to remain sexually
attractive, how to remain interesting.
It is not regarded, for instance, as a disaster if
the husband arrives home from work tired and grumpy,
but rather a sign of how hard he has worked for his
wife . She, grateful, must rush to soothe him, fix him
a drink, help him relax, and feed him, hopefully pro¬
tecting him from screaming kids as well as all other
problems until he is refreshed.
The wife, however, is warned never to greet her
husband at the end of the day tired and grumpy, how¬
ever bad her day has been. Husbands are bored with
wives' trivial daily problems and are annoyed to have
them imposed on them.
But after all, why should she protect him from
screaming kids? It is she who has been locked up with
them all day!
It turns out that a wife's duty is not just to run
the house, cook, clean, bear and care for the children,
and make the home a cozy haven for the man, but to
build up his ego.
"YOUR HAPPINESS AND YOUR HUSBAND'S EGO"
An article by James Lincoln Collier in Woman's Day
in October 1969, entitled "Your Happiness and Your
Husband's Ego" discusses this. Its title alone says
it all, and the implications are appal] ing. You can
not be happy unless your husband's ego is puffed up,
according to the glib logic of the author, so if it
comes to a clash between your ego and his, yours must
be sacrificed because that is the only way you can be
This article was reprinted in Reader 1 s Digest in
January 1970 under the even less subtle title, M How to
Support Your Husband's Ego"
One would think that men would be embarrassed to
see those words in big letters on the flyer glued to
the cover, staring out from all the newsstands. This
casual acceptance of the should-be-insulting idea that
men's egos are such weak, fragile, pathetic things
they have to be supported ! The admission that they
would fall apart without the artificial aid of wives
following explicit rules from the magazines! And
women believe that it is true, too, as documented in
an amazing article in Redbook magazine, in April, 1968,
called "Why Wives Lie to their Husbands".
"Your Happiness and Your Husband's Ego" begins with
the story of a woman who went back to work with her
husband's approval. Their marriage subsequently began
to deteriorate rapidly. He became irritable and re¬
fused to lift a finger to help her. He was suffering,
according to the marriage counsellor, from a "severely
damaged male ego".
Even though he had agreed intellectually to his
wife's return to work, he couldn't accept it emotion¬
ally. Fortunately, according to the author, Janet was
able to recognize and correct the situation in time.
"Correct" here apparently means quitting her job.
But it turns out even the husbands of stay-at-home
wives have ego problems. It is a tough world they
work in out there ("today's complex and competitive
society") and "the average man is subject to continu¬
ous assaults upon his masculinity." Then comes an
amazing statement. "Wives have their ego problems too,
but many authorities believe that the male's is far
more vulnerable." We needn't bother to inquire into
the sex of those authorities. The author continues:
"In our society men set out every morning to walk a
tightrope over an abyss of failure."
The responsibility is placed on the nature of
society, and the implication is that it is a natural
misfortune like droughts and floods. It isn't.
In the first place, this society the author speaks
of is a male society, and the competition a male
culture ethic, so that it is fair to say that men are
setting up these impossible standards for themselves.
Second, it isn't nearly as bad as he describes, and
he exaggerates the suffering of the men in it: if it
were that bad it would be changed. On the whole, how¬
ever, men accept it. Sometimes they get ulcers, true,
but they also have the challenge and the exhilaration
of it and the rewards of success, material and status.
If the game weren't worth it, they would change the
Third, the individual really defines failure, and
the "assaults on his masculinity" are his inability
to be as successful as he would like to be. Why
shouldn't he change his attitude, instead of women
changing theirs and sacrificing themselves? Why
should the woman in the opening story have to quit
her job? Why isn't the advice given that the man is
neurotic, unable to adjust to reality, his development
arrested in a childish state where "mother" exists
only for him and he is jealous and sulks if she has
any other interests? Why isn't the man sent for
In the case of "Your Happiness and Your Husband's
Ego" it was pretended (by the writer, a "happily mar¬
ried" male free-lance writer), that Janet quitting her
job was a very simple and mutually acceptable solu¬
tion to the problem. But this ignores any factors
which must have existed to make her go back to work in
the first place.
She may have been bored or oppressed at home, she
may have needed challenge, a sense of identity larger
than that afforded through her "family", something
that was meaningful in the society at large. She may
have wanted financial independence, or at least an end
to the suffocating feeling of having to beg for every
penny from her husband and to feel guilty if she
spends too much...even on the house (for which, as
Ellen Willis points out, she is merely a purchasing
agent) or on her appearance (which, again, is not mere
vanity but part of her job as a female and essential
(she has been taught by these same magazines) if she
wants to hold on to her husband) .
But Mr. Collier, viewing marriage serenely from an
exclusively male point of view, does not even mention
these possible feelings on Janet's part. It was just
taken for granted that if Tom didn't want her working,
even subconsciously, below his rational level, even
neurotically, then rather than him dealing with his
selfish, egocentric, childish impulses, it was entire¬
ly appropriate for Janet to make the sacrifice. You
can't be happy unless your husband is, Collier says
(convenient that the husband's feelings come first in
this construction), but he doesn't deal with the prob¬
lem that if too much is sacrificed to the husband,
the wife may be condemned to unhappiness because of
what she's given up, however sweet the husband may act
to her once she has gone back to being the agreeable,
self-sacrificing stay-at-home wife he wanted.
Collier pretends he has a solution by ignoring the
needs, feelings, personality, will and soul of the
wife. Other articles, however are sometimes directed
specifically at wives' problems and at least discuss
them. They don't do as convincing a job of presenting
Marriage advice from women's magazines is most not¬
able for its barrenness. These articles frequently
gain the reader's initial interest by admitting that
there is a problem (or rather, referring to a problem
the reader is already familiar with) then proceeding
to discuss it at length without offering any solu¬
It is surprising in fact that they can continue to
apply the same barren tools of analysis to the prob¬
lems in article after article without finding a solu¬
tion. When will they learn that a new approach, a new
analysis is necessary?
One concept taken for granted, at least on the
magazine covers where it will tempt women to buy the
magazine in search of realistic advice instead of rosy
platitudes, is the concept of the "trapped" housewife.
The extent to which this is taken for granted was il¬
lustrated one month when Reader's Digest advertized
"Occupation Housewife: Trap or Opportunity?", Fami ly
Circle advertized "How to Escape that Trapped Feeling"
and Redbook advertized "A Young Mother's Story: Why I
Like Feeling Trapped."
"HOW TO ESCAPE THAT TRAPPED FEELING"
The August 1969 issue of Family Circle advertizes
on the cover "How to Escape that Trapped Feeling."
It is excerpted from the book "How to Stay Married" by
Norman M. Lobsenz and Clark W. Blackburn. Mr. Black¬
burn is general director of Family Service Association
The authors begin by admitting that the "trapped"
feeling is very real for many wives. Many women, they
say/ are separated from friends and family/ tied down
with young children/ overwhelmed by the duties of wife
and mother and isolated from the outside adult world,
often without a car and far from mass transportation,
with husbands who are often away on business or work¬
ing late at night.
The authors go on: "Many of today's wives grew up
thinking they would combine marriage with other ac¬
complishments. But children are more demanding than
had been expected, life in the suburbs is less reward¬
ing, and marriage is not quite so egalitarian as had
been anticipated. Life suddenly becomes sterile....
The role of wife and mother may be glorified official¬
ly, but it is not all that exalting for a woman who
has prepared herself for something more or has experi¬
enced satisfactions outside of home life. Today's
young woman is encouraged to be competitive and inde¬
pendent, to use her mind and strive for achievement.
Yet when she marries this same girl is expected to
unlearn much of this and become a well-adjusted, non¬
competitive housewife and mother who derives her
principal pleasures from these roles. Many women find
this reversal difficult. They protest that their minds
are atrophying, that they did not need a college edu¬
cation to scrub floors, wash dishes, change diapers,
leave notes for the milkman, pay the newsboy, and chit¬
chat with the neighbors. There is a yearning for
something more—and a guilt over not being fulfilled.
I ought to be happy, they say. What's wrong with me
that I'm not?"
So far he has drawn a picture all the trapped house¬
wives can identify with. Now that we're hooked
(Finally! Someone who really understands!) the authors
proceed to discuss the solutions. They begin by say¬
ing we should admit this dissatisfaction without feel¬
ing guilty, so we will be freer to "explore other
interests", rather than letting the disillusionment
and guilt be "projected" (their word) "into jealousy
of the husband's freedom, his chance to move ahead
while they are stuck in a rut."
Other interests—what do they mean by that? We
find out. Civic activities to "help relieve feelings
of •uselessness 1 ." A bookrack over the sink so you
can read while doing dishes. Play classical records
while you do your housework, thus giving yourself a
first-rate musical education. Sell herbs you- raise in
There is no mention of a meaningful life-plan, let
alone a career; no suggestion of any kind of activity
that demands commitment.
After pointing out the things we could be doing if
we looked around, they continue: "Another fact many
•trapped wives* blind themselves to is that their hus¬
bands are not having a marvelous time during the day."
They quote a male executive of the Family Service
Agency on how wives don't understand how hard it is
for a man to go to work every day, and what kind of
competition they're up against. Then they say (this
is the punch line) "Paradoxically, women who have
worked seem to be even less understanding of the
strains on men."
Paradoxically indeed! So, is this all a joke? No,
as a matter of fact they are perfectly serious. We
are supposed to swallow that it is a paradox. They
proceed to justify the statement by quoting from
another counselor: "'For the most part, these women
worked for a few years at a pleasant and not very de¬
manding job that was a stopgap. Advancement was not
an important issue. 1 " Stopgap, dead-end jobs, however,
are very rarely pleasant, and no pressure-no advance¬
ment means there was no challenge. It's challenge
and the rewards of recognition and advancement that
make careers exciting and rewarding. Any woman who
worked at a stopgap dead-end job and is more bored at
home would be even more dissatisfied if she had worked
at a challenging career about which she really cared,
in a field that caught her interest or imagination,
where she made a difference and was appreciated for
her unique abilities.
Lobsenz and Blackburn then suggest that there be
more communication between husbands and wives. This
is the standard advice. It makes it a personal prob¬
lem rather than a social one. Wives should discuss
"their problem" with their husbands, and the husbands
should be "understanding." The husbands should notice
details about her housekeeping and praise her for it.
"This automatically makes a wife's routine tasks and
small triumphs more interesting to her."
He can talk to her about his co-workers and his
work. ("The wife of a scientist complained that when
they were first married she worked closely with him on
his doctoral thesis but that 'he acts now as if I don't
know a test tube from a Bunsen burner.'")
Finally, the husband can "take a hard look into why
he is pouring himself so intensively into his work" and
consider whether he needs to work late and weekends so
often or take so many trips. If he's not really enjoy¬
ing it, he should consider whether he might spend some
of that time at home.
In short, although the article was called "How to
Escape that Trapped Feeling", and although the authors
pretend to be offering solutions, the woman is left
with nothing. Her failure is her own fault, either her
personal laziness and lack of imagination (she didn't
build the bookrack over the sink) or her personal mis¬
fortune in not having a more "understanding" husband.
Faced with all this wasted talent, all this suffer¬
ing and frustration, all these crippled lives, the best
the authors can suggest is that wives ask their hus¬
bands to be more "understanding" of their own adjust¬
The possibility that the family structure itself is
oppressive, that to expect women to live such lives is
monstrous, is never considered. The rightness of it
is taken for granted.
And women despair, because even knowing the worst
of it (as these men seem to) the experts can only
suggest a bookrack over the sink. If that is the
case, then it really must be* hopeless.
"HOW TO MAKE YOUR HUSBAND FIGHT FAIR"
Another example of the technique of gaining the
reader's interest (and selling the magazine) by adver¬
tizing something in the way of a new, honest analysis
which takes into account the realities of sexual
politics was offered by Ladies Home Journal in October
Its cover promised, "How to Make Your Husband Fight
Fair". I felt a wave of excitement when I saw it. At
last! I thought^ as I'm sure many other women did. An
article about the special things men do, the unfair
ways of fighting that husbands use against wives: the
intellectual intimidation/ the implied physical threats
that cut off discussion/ the implied or explicit threat
of desertion that wives are so much more intimidated
Maybe even, on a deeper, more subtle level/ the
article would include a discussion of the different
self-imposed limits; there are many things that a
woman will never say to a man, no matter how angry or
how desperate, things that she knows would never be
forgiven and would drive him into a violent rage. But
men will say almost anything to a'woman and she lives
with it/ just as she lives with being humiliated in
public or at parties in ways that it would be unthink¬
able for a woman to humiliate a man. (It's called
"castrating" the man; the woman has been "put down" or
"shut up" or "put in her place" or "joked about" or
"criticized" or "corrected" or "teased.") Often the
blame falls entirely on the woman when she is humili¬
ated. She was talking too much/ acting like a know-it-
But inside it turned out the article had nothing to
do with how to make your husband fight fair. It was
about how husbands and wives / and since it was a
woman 1 s magazine and so presumably it was women who
were reading the article, how wives should fight fair,
specifically by "leveling" with each other about what
is bugging them, instead of fighting about substitute
It was a fairly interesting article, but because of
the fact that it took the political status quo for
granted and worked within that the result was at best
a reduction in misunderstandings, the sort of misunder¬
standings that resulted in Janet and Tom fighting about
everything but the fact that he felt castrated by her
going back to work with the resulting almost-breakup
of their marriage.
If they had studied this article (actually an
excerpt from a book) Tom would have been able to
explain what was bugging him instead of sulking and
picking on her about little things and then Janet
could have quit her job right away and saved the whole
family much tension.
In other cases it is conceivable that it could be
dangerous for a wife to "level" with her husband.
Unless he can be depended upon to always fight
completely fair (and how many can be depended upon
when they regard any infringements on their privileges
as castration?) any information about where her soft
underbelly lies could later be used against her.
The authors of'this article meant well/ and they
had some good insights, but as long as the political
status quo is accepted as just and appropriate we can
never achieve truly honest/ creative/ meaningful
relations between men and women: we can never even
have mutually respectful and loving relationships.
You have heard that old joke — the three fastest
forms of communication known to man are: telephone/
telegraph and tell a woman. Ha. Ha.
Well/ it's no joke. That's exactly how we'll get
the word around. With our millions/ we can out-mass
the mass media.
Since every woman has the evidence already (in her
daily life)/ she only needs to know that other women
are finally on the move to take equality for them¬
selves. The men who kept us isolated and neutralized
by name-calling (manhater/ bitch/ un-feminine, lesbian,
etc. etc.) whenever we complained of their unequal
treatment, lose their power when we laugh at that
trick. And we can laugh when we know so many others
are laughing at it, too.
Yes, tell a woman. She'll know what you're talking
about, and she'll tell another woman. The message is
simple: we are no longer alone.
ABORTION - A WOMAN'S DECISION OR THE LAW'S
The abortion laws disregard the fact that they are
dealing with responsible human beings, that are sup¬
posed to no longer be chattels, but accorded the dig¬
nity of the law. As mature human beings, women should
have the right to decide for themselves whether or not
they should terminate a specific pregnancy. Women al¬
ready have this responsibility, but are forced to
carry it out illegally, if considered necessary. This
right should be theirs legally.
There are already laws covering operations in gen¬
eral (a person under 21 needs consent, etc.) and these
provide more than adequate coverage in the instances
of abortion. Mature legal considerations should in¬
dicate to legislators, not liberalization of existing
abortion laws, but the complete abolition of such laws.
Each woman must decide for herself. No law is
going to force anyone to have an abortion, but those
who don't want an abortion should not be allowed to
force their decision on others.
As the law now stands, it serves to discriminate
against the poor and non-white woman. For example,
90% of the legal therapeutic abortions performed in
hospitals in New York in the last twenty years were
performed on white women, while criminal abortions
accounted for a disproportionately higher number of
•deaths among the underprivileged. This goes to prove
the important point of how the law reflects whose in¬
terests are of primary importance, how these interests
are furthered and protected by the law. That laws
serve only men and the well-off is abundantly clear.
It is equally clear that women get abortions
whether they are legal or not. The law just makes
more women get criminal rather than legal abortions,
and many women die at the hands of untrained abor¬
tionists. 10,000 to 18,000 legal abortions are per¬
formed in hospitals every year. But 20 to 30 times
that many are performed illegally. If these laws
are supposed to be humanitarian, and one of the con¬
siderations taken into account when deciding for a
legal abortion is if the woman's life will be in dan¬
ger without one, then the fact that a woman's life
will be endangered in the hands of an illegal abor¬
tionist doesn't keep hospitals from turning women
When the question of abortion arises, the public
looks to the professions of religion, law and medicine
to supply them with, or to impose their answers on
them. This is a completely unrealistic attitude.
Women are the only ones truly concerned with abortion;
for us it can be a matter of life or death, physical
and psychological suffering, and slavery to laws we
had no choice in making. True, doctors can be punished
for performing "illegal" abortions, but the penalty for
women can be death.
Taking a closer look at these professional author¬
ities, we might ask how they can represent women, and
how good their moral judgement is. Doctors certainly
don't even have equal representation of women in their
ranks, and as a group they are noted for their self-
centeredness ? the same can be said even more vehemently
The hierarchy of the church has never been charac¬
terized as having a compassionate view of women? it is
also completely dominated by males. The church speaks
of the sanctity of life after its long history of cru¬
sades, inquisitions, pograms, genocide and witch bur¬
nings. A more recent occurrence in history which can
testify to their moral veracity was the discovery of
anaesthetics. In that situation the position of the
church was that women were supposed to suffer in child¬
birth to atone for the sins of Eve, and to relieve the
suffering of childbirth with anaesthesia was to disobey
a biblical injunction. The view that women are innately
evil and must be punished for their sins - how does
this affect the church's stance on abortion? All these
things are part of the political history of women. We
want freedom of choice, right now!!!
"Were our state a pure democracy, there would still
be excluded from our deliberations .. .women , who, to
prevent depravation of morals and ambiguity of issues,
should not mix promiscuously in gatherings of men."
WITHOUT YOU AND WITHIN YOU
We human beings are not creatures who spring
from the earth, our integrity round and tight, our
will free and objective. We are not only influenced
by what goes on around us, we are conditioned and
created by it.
Desires and even needs can be created. We are all
familiar with the ingenious techniques of Madison
Avenue to generate insecurity in order to offer their
product or service as a means of assuaging the in¬
security. The most effective techniques zero in on
our fears of not being socially acceptable, not being
loved, not being sexually attractive.
The seeds of this insecurity exist already in a
society whose ideology of individualism isolates
people and throws the blame for all maladjustment and
failure onto the individual.
We constantly hear the variations on this theme.
It is used to avoid admitting that anything could be
wrong with the way our society is set up. "If you
can't make a satisfactory adjustment to life, it's
your own problem: perhaps some professional help is in
order." "Don't try to change the world—you'd better
free your mind instead."
And we hear it thrown at us in response to the
threat of female liberation. "You should be_ intimi¬
dated by being put down by men." " Leave your family
if it's so oppressive." "If you don’t like the way
your lover treats you, you can get out of bed." "It's
your own fault if you don't get good jobs—you let
yourself be discouraged, you took the unchallenging,
'feminine' courses of study in school."
The assumption implicit in all these things is the
individualist ideology that if you are unable to do
something which is theoretically possible (or which is
thought to be theoretically possible) it is because of
a personal hang-up and consequently you have no legit¬
This isolates people and tends to make them in¬
secure and unself-confident. They often can be
brought to despise themselves because they see in
themselves so many supposed weaknesses and psycholog¬
ical problems that prevent them from being happy,
well-adjusted, and effective. This is a character-
istic of our society and isolates all of us, not just
the women. (However, women, being the most oppressed,
are forced to blame themselves the most for their
impotence and thus despise themselves the most and are
most isolated and afraid and anxious that no one will
The very isolation the individualist ideology
imposes makes us desire even more to be loved and
accepted, and fear even more being unlovable
But we cannot escape our fears of being unlovable
"Who would want me?" we ask. "I have all these hang¬
A man knows he's not a "real man". He can't ad¬
just to his role, either: he's afraid of women. As
real people with free will capable of challenging his
right to rule (and thus his virility) , they are
A woman may know she's unwomanly, neurotic and
selfish: sometimes she feels trapped and hates her
The solution offered to all this is often to open
yourself up until you can merge selflessly with
another person. In many cases it is explicitly sex.
But the solutions all point to sex one way or another.
Sex becomes magic, assumes a life of its own, making
anything interesting, everything worthwhile. It's
for this that we spend these hours trying on micro-
dresses, loading up with jingle jangle chains, smooth¬
ing on lacy white stockings and Instant Glow Face
It is this that many girls who would be most free
to fight in the female liberation struggle are squan¬
dering valuable energy pursuing as an indispensible
part of their lives. They lavish and dissipate their
valuable time and talents and emotional strength on
attempts to be attractive to men and to work things
out with lovers so that "love" might be less degrad¬
ing. And too often all they reap is demoralization,
damaged egos, emotional exhaustion.
Under the banner of "not denying our sexuality",
and pointing to repression in the past when women
were denied the right to any pleasure in their bodies
at all, many of us now embrace sexuality and its ex¬
pression completely uncritically. As if present excess
could make up for past deprivation. As if even total
sexual fulfillment would change anything. Except...
is this true?—except private dead-of-the-night fears
that maybe we really are the sexually frustrated
neurotic freaks our detractors accuse us of being.
Are we chasing sexual fulfillment so earnestly because
we have to prove that our politics are not just a
result of our needing a good fuck?
Then there is the issue of orgasms. Among those
who were never well-adjusted and womanly enough to
psych themselves into an orgasm while being vaginally
stimulated by a man, there are some who, when they
discover that their shame and misery was not only not
unique but in fact extremely common and due to very
straight-forward, anatomical causes, react to this
discovery by feeling that they must make it all up by
demanding all the physical fulfillment they had been
providing the men all along and missing themselves.
What we lost wasn't just X* many instances of
physical pleasure. The suffering that countless women
have endured because they were told that if they didn't
have vaginal orgasms they were frigid—that they were
neurotic and selfish and unwomanly and sexually mal¬
adjusted and unable to let go and give and secretly
resented the power of their husbands and envied men—
this suffering is staggering and heartbreaking.
The best analysis and rebuttal of this evil fraud,
this crippling delusion that routinely sacrifices the
happiness of one sex to the vanity of the other, is
Anne Koedt's article "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm."
Every woman should read Anne's paper over and over
until that vicious, pervasive ideology of oppression
is purged forever.
The liberation of sexual equality and the right to
sexual pleasure is the solution for the future. But
is there any solution for the past? Is it a solution
to go out and collect orgasms in order to make up for
all those frustrated, self-loathinq years?
I say you can never make up for all that suffering,
and certainly not through a mere physical sensation.
And as for the psychological rewards of getting my
due at last, I can feel no triumph in that, especially
when I'm still fighting the old habits and old guilts
that remain long after the intellect and the will have
The worst part about it is that even with perfect
sexual fulfillment, mutual guilt-free pleasure, we are
still oppressed. After all, some women managed to
have vaginal orgasm all along, and they were still
oppressed; in fact, that was how you were supposed to
achieve orgasms, by surrendering completely to the
man's will, by loving being a woman and everything
Sexual relations in the world today (and perhaps in
all past ages) are oppressive. The fact that your
lover gives you an orgasm changes only one small part
of that oppression (namely the part that dictated that
you had to see yourself as a creature who was allowed
only the muted, sensuous, semi-masochistic pleasure of
getting fucked and never the direct active transcend¬
ent pleasure of orgasm).
If that were the only injustice, or even the major
injustice, done us, we would be very well off indeed.
In fact, we would probably be able to bear it without
concern, certainly without misery and self-loathing.
It's the general oppression and degradation we suffer
in the world that causes us to be humiliated in the
sex act, as Simone de Beauvoir points out. If it
weren't for the sense of inadequacy and impotency we
learn from all other aspects of our lives, we would
kick our lover out of bed if he was arrogant, incon¬
siderate, or ungentle.
Some men do the dinner dishes every night. That
doesn't make their wives free. On the contrary, it's
just one more thing she has to feel grateful to him
for. He, in the power and glory of his maleness,
condescended to do something for her. It will never
mean more than that until the basic power relations
As long as men are the superior caste and hold the
political power in the class relationship between men
and women, it will be a favor your lover is doing you,
however imperiously you demand it. And beyond that
one thing, nothing else need have changed.
But the issue isn't just orgasm. We weren't even
allowed to engage in sexual intercourse without giving
up social dignity and the respect of men. We weren't
allowed to love, to make love, to enjoy making love,
even with our husbands . Husbands were commanded to
love their wives, wives to obey their husbands. It
was cruel and insufferably hypocritical.
But whatever we were denied in the past, it cannot
he argued that access to sexual pleasure is denied to
us now. Our "right" to enjoy our own bodies has not
only been bestowed upon us. It is almost a duty. In
fact, thincrs have been turned around to the point
where the "fact" (actually a smear devise) that we do
not engage in sex is whispered about and used by men
to discourage "their" women from having anything to do
with us. This is one development that makes me laugh
out loud whenever I think about it. What would "Ask
Beth" think about that! How can men pull this off
with a straight face? They must be terrified indeed
at the thought of losing their power to define what is
proper for proper women. (For that power is exactly
what we are challenging.)
The right that is a duty. Sexual freedom that in¬
cludes no freedom to decline sex, to decline to be
defined at every turn by sex. Sex becomes a religion,
existing independently of the individuals who share
its particular physical consummation. The media
totally bombard us with it.
Sex is everywhere. It's forced down our throats.
It's the great sop that keeps us in our place. The
big lift that makes our dreary worlds interesting.
Everywhere we are sexual objects, and our own enjoy¬
ment just enhances our attractiveness. We are wanton.
We wear miniskirts and see-through tops. We're sexy.
We're free. We run around and hop into bed whenever
This is the self-image we have built up in us by
advertising and the media. It's self-fulfilling. And
very, profitable. It keeps us in our place and feeling
lucky about it (the freedom to consume, consume,
consume, until we swallow the world). It makes us
look as if we're free and active (actively, freely,
we solicit sex from men).
And people seem to believe that sexual freedom (even
when it is only the freedom to actively offer oneself
as a willing object) is freedom. When men say to us,
"But aren't you already liberated?", what they mean
is, "We said it was okay for you to let us fuck you,
that guilt was neurotic, that chaste makes waste?
you're already practically giving it away on the
street, what more do you want or could you stomach?"
The unarticulated assumption behind this misunder-
standing is that women are purely sexual beings, bodies
and sensuality, fucking machines. Therefore freedom
for women could only mean, sexual freedom.
Spiritual freedom, intellectual freedom, freedom
from invasions of privacy and the insults of degrading
stereotypes, these are appropriate only to men, who
care about such things and could appreciate them.
Woman, remember, is a sexual being, soft, emotional,
expressive, giving, close to the earth, physical, im¬
prisoned by the frightening disgusting delicious all
too perishable flesh. For such a creature to presume
upon the territory of transcendence is horrifying,
unthinkable, polluting the high, pure realms of the
will and spirit, where we rise above the flesh.
Unfortunately, the oppressed often adopt the
psychoses of the ruling class, transformed, sometimes,
until they seem no longer vicious and intellectually
dishonest projections but a reasonable acceptance of
reality (and for the oppressed, reality is^ in a sense
what the ruling class believes) .
So we recognize that we have something of an
intellect, and perhaps even use it openly with toler¬
ant or sophisticated men. But we still recognize that
insofar as we are also women , we are soft, emotional,
expressive, giving, close to the earth, ruled at times
by our sensuality, our profound, undeniable sexuality.
There are rewards for us in this. In losing our¬
selves in sexual surrender we bring that masterful,
rational, hard, unemotional analytical man to abject,
total, frenzied need of the flesh he likes to fancy
himself above. And there is no question that sexual
love for a woman contains as a strong component the
desire to become powerful by merging with the powerful.
She sees herself as impotent and ineffectual, him as
masterful and competent. She longs for that sense of
competence and the confidence that comes to him from
knowing it's "his world". In the intimacy and
ecstasy of sex she seeks to lose herself, become one
Children who are told over and over that they are
liars or thieves become liars or thieves. People who
are told over and over that they are crazy become
crazy. If you are told over and over that you are a
being who has profound sexual needs the odds are very
good that you will discover that you do. Particularly
when other outlets are forbidden or discouraged. Par¬
ticularly when it is emphasized that those who do not
feel these needs are frigid, neurotic, sexually mal¬
adjusted (which for a woman means essentially malad¬
justed) , dried up, barren, to be pitied.
This stereotype too is self-fulfilling. A woman
who cannot enjoy sex, for whatever reason (her husband,
it may be, is repulsive to her either because of his
style as a lover or because of the contempt with which
he treats her out of bed), may become bitter believing
she is missing her womanly fulfillment, the great
soul-shaking pleasure that would make the rest of the
misery of being a woman worthwhile.
It's useless to claim that we aren't programmed to
desire sex, to reach for it, to need it. Even when
we know something is false our conditioning drives us
to continue to act it out. In this case it is very
difficult even to sort out what is true and what is
A woman in her forties wrote to me as follows:
"Now I realize all that about it's being an instinct,
but I think there's something more to the story. When
I reflect on my own past experience, I can rarely find
a time when I was driven to it from inside need. I'm
not saying if I didn't have it for a long period
(which hasn't ever happened to me), I might not feel
the instinct, but I'm saying we need some evidence of
just how much because I suspect that even the minimum
is far, far less than is believed. ... I know I
talked myself into most sex probably looking for the
"earth-moving orgasm" which maybe was a hoax anyway.
What if no one had given me those words with which I
talked myself into it? I begin to distrust it all.
Reminds me of that line from Notes from the First
Year: sometimes you'd rather play ping pong."
No doubt there are some innate needs, or at least
propensities. But a propensity can be culturally
built into an obsession or culturally killed off,
sometimes simply by never reinforcing it.
I personally suspect that some form of sex urge may
turn out to be innate. Human beings reproduced before
they had an elaborate social organization institution¬
alizing sexual intercourse and before full page color
ads in magazines urging women to "Be Some Body".
And if it turns out that this urge is not that
strong, it might still be worth keeping (i.e. reinfor¬
cing) if it affords people physical pleasure or
pleasures of intimacy. But it should be taken for
granted that it must be pleasurable to both parties /
always: which means it must never be institutional¬
ized by law or culture. And if it is_ a basic "drive"
felt by both men and women, there is no need to in¬
stitutionalize it to ensure its survival.
What we "see" when we look inside may correspond
very poorly to reality. We’re saturated with a par¬
ticular story about what's inside. Moreover, we've
been saturated with this all our lives, and it has
conditioned us and made us what we are. We feel that
we need sex, but the issue is very confused. What is
it we really need? Is it orgasms? Intercourse?
Intimacy with another human being? Stroking? Com¬
panionship? Human kindness? And do we "need" it
physically or psychologically?
Intercourse, in the sense of the physical act which
is the ultimate aim of so much anxiety, plotting and
consuming, is not necessarily the thing we are really
longing for, any more than, in the more obvious cases,
it is the consumer products advertising builds up
neurotic longing for.
Physically, there is a certain objective tension
and release, at least for a man, when excitation
proceeds to orgasm. With a woman even this physical
issue is much less clear: most women don't have
orgasms at all, and very few always have them. I
think we might all agree that that isn't why we go to
bed with a man. In any case an orgasm for a woman
isn't a release in the same sense that it is for a
man, since we are capable of an indefinite number,
remaining aroused the whole time, limited only by
exhaustion. The release we feel, therefore, is psy¬
A psychological tension to get this man, to possess
him in a certain intimate sense, is released when we
"get him" through his orgasm. We then enjoy the
pleasure of closeness because he_ is more open to us
(provided he is_open, and doesn't just turn over and
go to sleep, or jump up to attend to something else on
his mind, his attention easily distracted now) .
Without denying that sex can be pleasurable, I
suggest that the real thing we seek is closeness,
Merging, perhaps a kind of oblivion of self that dis¬
solves the terrible isolation of individualism. The
pleasure argument doesn't impress me very much. A lot
of things are pleasurable without our getting the idea
that we can't live without them, even in a revolution¬
ary context. I can think of certain foods, certain
music, certain drugs, whose physical pleasurableness
compares favorably even to good sex.
Moreover, destruction of sense of isolation through
communication, community, human kindness, and common
cause are all available from other women as you work
together in the struggle against oppression. With
other women you are more than friends, you are sisters.
It would be a mistake to brush off too quickly the
spiritual strength to be gained from sisterhood or to
overestimate the solace in the arms of a man, just
because that is, traditionally, women's only resort.
What I want to suggest is not that sex is by its
nature evil and destructive, but that it is not an
absolute physical need: the assumption that it is_ an
absolute physical need is evil and the patterns of
behavior that grow out of that assumption are destruc¬
Most of us recognize that sexual relationships
often turn out to be evil and destructive in a society
where dehumanization, exploitation, and oppression of
women is so deeply imbedded into the culture. What we
seek is the exception, the rare case where we have, or
think for a little while that we might have, the right
guy and the right circumstances.
But even in love we are limited when we believe
that we must screw to express love. We are programmed
to think that not only is sex the only way to demon¬
strate or prove our love, it is the only (or best) way
to express it. And in this dangerous and alienating
society we are always very anxious to demonstrate, to
prove, and to express our love, and to have the affec¬
tions of our lover demonstrated, proved, and expressed
to us. For men this is doubly compelling because sex
for a man is the only or best way to prove or express
his virility, both by the demonstration of sexual
potency and by the imposing of his will on her.
To the extent that this is true, then, we are
conditioned to that one mode of expression and turn to
it uncritically. But we need to develop new nonsexual
ways of relating to people, to men as well as women.
The obsession with genital sexuality, and screwing
in particular, cheats us out of a world of rich possi¬
bilities. We think that love is sex love, genital sex
love. Therefore we can't love women or men we aren't
sexually involved with or interested in.
Affection too is identified with genital sex and
except for children, pets, and a few close relatives,
all physical affection must be limited to our assigned
male sex partner. Even communication, human contact
and understanding, is assumed to be available only in
the intimacy of genital sexual contact.
All desire for love, companionship, physical affec¬
tion, communication, and human kindness therefore
translate to us into a desire for sex. This is
pathetically narrow, impossibly limiting. Especially
since it can be asked with some justice whether it is
very common to obtain this communication, this human
kindness, this companionship and affection we seek.
It's what we want, all right, but we must ask of it,
as we ask of the patent medicine which promises just
what we want, does it really do that? And if not,
perhaps it is, in practice, a fraud.
In fact, as women have frequently observed, sex can
be a fast way to ruin a good relationship. Either
because the man just can't treat her as an equal when
he's so personally involved, or because he doesn't
know how to treat a woman equally in a sexual relation¬
ship, or because he was secretly or subconsciously
after the conquest all along.
Another problem is that men have a different view
of love and sex than women and for the most part women
do not know this. They assume they are making equal
and similar investments.
Studies have been made of what men and women think
love is, what love means to them. Affection and
companionship are first on the women's lists, with
security and other elements following, and sex turns
up as number 8. Men reverse this with sex first.
Companionship and affection are secondary goals for
men. This orientation of men, coupled with the set of
cultural attitudes (and fears) men have toward women,
make the sexual love relationship a poor place for a
woman to seek communication and human understanding.
However, as long as we are able to make clear
demands of a relationship, to insist that the man ful¬
fill certain requirements or we shall do without him,
thank you, then we can keep our heads above water.
These requirements might be: (1) He is sexually inter¬
ested in me, not just interested in sex with me the
one who was closest at hand. (2) He is not indifferent
to me aside from the sex; he has tender feelings,
loyalty, perhaps even love for me. (3) He respects me
as a person, is willing to discuss things with me,
does not browbeat me, lecture me, or disparage my
opinions or projects.
It is when we are not free, or do not feel free, to
make such a set of minimum demands on a relationship
that the serious trouble arises. And we are not free
when we are in the grip of the false conditioning that
decrees that we need sex. We are not free if we
believe the culture's ominous warnings that we will
become "horny" (what a callous, offensive word) and
frustrated and neurotic and finally shrivel up into
prunes and have to abandon hope of being good,
creative, effective people. We are not free if we
believe that we, like the lower animals, are driven by
something which is not only instinctual but mindlessly,
If we believe all that, then, due to the rarity of
good, healthy, constructive relationships between men
and women in the world today, we will be forced to
accept, even seek out, evil and destructive relation¬
ships where we are used, and accept that humiliation
in return for the privilege of "using him".
If it were true that we needed sex from men, it
would be a great misfortune, one that might almost
doom our fight. (Meanwhile, the belief that it is
true can serve the same function.) Fortunately, it is
not true. When we seek sex it is by conscious intel¬
ligent choice. We wish to experience through intimacy
human kindness, communication, back-to-the-womb merg¬
ing and oblivion, child-like openness.
We do it because we think it's the right thing to
do. We may be mistaken. We may only think it's the
right thing because we think that we will turn into
neurotic bitches if we don't. But we don * t do it
because we are sexual beings who cannot "deny our
According to this argument, to have sexual feelings,
or an energy that could be rapidly converted into
sexual energy, and yet to choose not to engage in
sexual intercourse but rather to expend that energy on
something else which seems, at the moment, of higher
priority, is to "deny" our sexuality.
This is what men have done to us all along. (They
do not apply this same logic to themselves.) Because
they only relate to us sexually they conclude that we
are just sexual beings. If we then function on any
other level something is seriously out of joint since
in effect we are "denying*' that we are primarily
But in fact, it is only if we are merely sexual
beings/ exclusively sexual beings, that choosing to
put our energy elsewhere indicates any kind of denial.
(The great scientist or artist or writer who puts all
his energy in his work is not denying anything—that
would be to insult him—he simply feels that the day
is only so long and for this particular time his work
is the most important thing to him.)
Personally, I recognize that I have sexual feelings.
The exact nature and origin of them is open to debate,
but I have no doubt that there is an objective,
physical reality involved at least to some extent.
However, I and I alone will decide what importance
these feelings have in my life as a human being.
We are not living in an ideal society and "post¬
revolutionary" characters or life styles might well
hinder revolution or make it impossible. The fact
that in a good society women might want to produce
children, at least until the perfection of the arti¬
ficial womb, is no reason for me to take myself out of
the struggle by having children now under these
Similarly, the belief that sex would have a place
in a good society does not necessarily mean that we
must engage in it now. That decision must be based on
the objective conditions of the present. Let me say
something about the objective conditions of the
We are crippled people living in an evil and de¬
structive world. We have a great deal to do beyond
the mere business of living. There is much work that
needs to be done, and not, by any means, just the
work of liberating people and making a revolution.
There is the work of rebuilding ourselves, learning
to know ourselves and our potentials, learning to
respect ourselves, learning to respect and work with
other women. We must overcome all the self-destruc¬
tive patterns we have been taught in a lifetime of
This work of reclaiming ourselves and making a
revolution in women's minds in order to free all of us
is the most important work. If a particular sexual
relationship or encounter is convenient, appropriate,
and pleasurable, if it is not demeaning or possessive
or draining in any way, you might decide to choose to
invest some of your precious self in it.
But remember how precious your time and your energy
and your ego is, and respect yourself enough to insist
that the rewards be equal to the investment.
"SEXUALITY: Sex is not part of a relationship; on
the contrary, it is a solitary experience, non-crea-
tive, a gross waste of time. The female can easily-
far more easily than she may think-condition away her
sex drive, leaving her completely cool and cerebral
and free to pursue truly worthy relationships and ac¬
tivities? but the male, who seems to dig women sexu¬
ally and who seeks constantly to arouse them, stimu¬
lates the highly-sexed female to frenzies of lust,
throwing her into a sex bag from which few women ever
escape. The lecherous male excites the lustful
female; he has to-when the female trandscends her
body, rises above animalism, the male, whose ego con¬
sists of his cock, will disappear.
Sex is the refuge of the mindless. And the more
mindless the woman, the more deeply embedded in the
male 'culture', in short, the nicer she is, the more
sexual she is. The nicest women in our 'society' are
raving sex maniacs. But, being just awfully, awfully
nice they don't, of course, descend to fucking-that's
uncouth-rather they make love, commune by means of
their bodies and establish sensual rapport..."
I am just-ME.
Covered with scars and thorns,
Tears BLASTING from my eyes,
In your bed
I have been left for dead too often
(and sometimes I did die)
For you to kill me again.
That no matter what you have done
I am still here.
And it has made me dangerous, and wise.
You cannot whore, perfume, or suppress me any more
I have my own business in this skin
And on this planet.
Indra Dean Allen
All "civilized" societies and many "primitive"
societies are structured on the assumption that women
are less capable of social contribution than men.
This is often manifested in the notion that women are
capable of a different kind of contribution than men
("separate but equal") or that they are selfish or
frigid if they don't contribute their sexuality in
some way (most often through motherhood) . This has
meant a division of labor by sex which has accorded
woman a private/ home-centered/ emotional world of
childbearing and sex.
All manifestations of the assumption that women
are humanly different must be destroyed. The few
biological differences between men and women should
not mean that women are relegated to an entirely dif¬
ferent role. The fact that women can bear children
should not mean that they bear total responsibility
for the raising of those children. The fact that
women cannot lift as much weight as men should not
mean that they are considered intellectually/ emo¬
tionally/ spiritually or otherwise physically weaker
(women are constitutionally far stronger than men) .
Basically/ it is the attitude (with its manifesta¬
tions) that women are different that we want to de¬
stroy. It has resulted in a pattern of sex roles
that forces men as well as women to fulfill their
definition by sex before they can define themselves
as individuals. For men this has meant that their
activities and gestures represent aggression and
power. Men have exerted these qualities over women
and derived a great deal of psychological reward
from women's responses of submission. For women/
the sex role system has not only predefined the
quality of their thought and action, but it has
restricted their activity. Any woman who does not
make herself appealing to men or who chooses not to
bear children or engage in extensive sexual relations
is thereby considered not only an undesirable woman,
but an "antisocial" person.
When we speak of the freedom to define oneself, we
mean also freedom from the poles of aggression and
passivity. To choose between these poles is to have
no choice at all. Their existence is the result of
the sex role system. Because children are trained one
way or the other and not allowed to incorporate char¬
acteristics of the n opposite" sex into their behavior,
these qualities become intensely polarized. This has
meant the major loss in productivity of half the human
race, for passivity for women has meant no right to
assertion whatsoever. It has also meant a great loss
of constructive activity by men. They waste a great
deal of their time in frantic attempts to prove their
Female Liberation means very literally the liber¬
ation of the concept of the female. (When I use
"female" or "male" qualitatively, I am referring to
the socialized patterns. I do NOT mean to imply that
these characteristics are biological differences.)
The assertion of the male concept has created a chaotic
world - massive powers destroying each other in the
quest for more power, economies dependent on wars of
aggression, masses of oppressed peoples caught in in¬
tricate hierarchies of caste and class and ineffectual
bureaucracies intent on the preservation of central¬
ized modes of decision-making. Hierarchy, centraliz¬
ation and the patriarchal family are all manifesta¬
tions of aggression. Our perception of other possi¬
bilities has been blinded by male patterns of hierar¬
chy, i.e. the exploitation of males. Yet in "primi¬
tive" matriarchal cultures these patterns did not
exist. Authority and children were cared for collec¬
tively. They were viewed as the responsibility as
well as the future of the culture as a whole. They
were not owned by private individuals.
We hear a great deal of talk now about humanizing
our technology - restructuring it in order to serve
consumers rather than producers. Since the consumer
is associated with the female quality of receptive¬
ness, it is only through the demand that this quality
be respected that this can occur. It has been desig¬
nated a female role to care for others and to function
non-competetively. Only if this consciousness is
created in all humans can our "civilization" hope to
survive. At present all the manifestations of the
male patterns of aggression are coming into conflict.
The contradictions in the sex role system are becoming
blatant as man is on the verge of destroying himself
with the "civilization" he has created. The question
appears now not to be whether or not man will destroy
himself, but how; will it be the bomb, the population
explosion, pollution, the raping of the earth's re¬
sources or the uprisings of oppressed peoples? We
can only hope to survive if these problems are evalu¬
ated and dealt with according to necessity rather
than as political power plays; if femaleness as a
quality is asserted and respected. Only if we work
with nature, respecting her needs rather than viola¬
ting them, can we solve these problems and create a
civilization where people can grow in harmony with
each other and with nature.
The masculine ideology has defined all values,
structures and ideals to serve its interests. The
fact that the soft, frail and made-up female stands
as the ideal of feminine beauty shows how men have
warped even the aesthetic in an attempt to feel more
masculine. Because these definitions are intended to
preserve a pattern that superficially benefits the
male ego, they are inherently immature. People strive
to assume the definitions of themselves and of fulfill¬
ment that pervade our culture and are thereby stunted
in the growth process. The concept of power is per¬
haps the most grossly misconstrued. Because political
power has been maintained in the hands of a few and
misused by those few, we have come to think of power
in those terms. So some say that women have no power.
True, they don't hold the kind of power that is ac¬
knowledged as established authority. Yet they can
exert a manipulative and therefore demeaning kind of
power. They can use their services or the threat of
the non-availability of these services to create
change. They can also exert authority over their
children that is potentially the most inhuman kind of
power held by one person. Power should instead mean
the freedom to be respected and to respect oneself in
one's exertion of human authority. If everyone had
power, the concept could no longer exist as it does
now. Strength should in the same way include those
qualities of self-respect, sensitivity and understand¬
ing rather than superficial assertions of masculinity.
To support the masculine ideology, security has meant
assurance of one’s rank in the social and economic
hierarchy. Only if this hierarchy didn't exist and
people were encouraged to figure out the world for
themselves, could security come to mean internal sta¬
The process of civilization has meant the triumph
of the masculine ideal. The most "civilized" cultures
are those that exert the most control over other cul¬
tures - that have developed technology to its greatest
extent at the risk of total annihilation and the loss
of human motivation or consideration. Inherent in the
dialectic of an increasingly extreme assertion of the
male principle is its own destruction. It's not an
accident that the female liberation movement has begun
now, in the midst of international opposition to the
manifestations of male assertion (imperialism) . This
assertion has gone too far. It can no longer be veiled
as the advancement and spreading of civilization to
the benefit of all mankind. Hierarchy stunts and sub¬
verts the civilizing process. Although there have
been attempts by men at de-centralization (anti-trust,
anti-monopoly laws, balance of powers), they could not
succeed. For the fundamental and basic pattern of
centralization was not perceived - the concentration
of all power in the hands of men. Efforts have been
geared toward the balance of male powers, rather than
toward breaking it up, thus maintaining the superior¬
ity of men.
The process of civilization must now arrive at a
more humane means of integrating our wishes and de¬
sires with reality. Technology made this possible to
some extent. It allowed some a life of leisure while
being provided with the luxuries as well as the neces¬
sities of life. Yet because it has been used to pro¬
vide well only for the few, it has become an inhuman
and oppressive force for the many. If our culture
were consumer rather than producer oriented so that
we employed machine slaves rather than human slaves,
used the potential of science to aid people in medical
research, etc. rather than creating bombs, and pro¬
vided everyone with a certain amount of leisure, tech¬
nology could be a great force in the furthering of
civilization. But as it stands now it is not only
immature, but destructive.
Sanity has been defined as the ability to survive
emotionally and to function in this culture. Yet to
be considered sane, one must conform to the expecta¬
tions and definitions that now exist. One must sup¬
press all attempts to truly integrate one's ideals
with reality, for "reality" dictates that we must not
question or violate the male patterns. A "sane" popu¬
lation thereby stunts the growth of civilization.
Morality and the legality that derives from it have
also had more to do with conforming to established
patterns of behavior than preserving one's self-respect
by doing what one truly believes to be right. A moral
culture would allow the greatest freedom of creative
assertion possible without violating this freedom of
The "New Left" has brought up an amusing dialectic
in its criticisms of the feminist groups. It puts
down many of our meetings for being personal rather
than political. It's patterned notion of political
change involves historic, romantic images of fighting
in the streets. The Left can't see that for women to
talk about their relations with men and society,
and to discover the patterns that exist and the simi¬
larity of their situations is the most revolutionary
change possible. They will no longer be willing to
live isolated, private lives, believing men's defini¬
tions of them. They will fight for female liberation
now, for they understand how it immediately relieves
their lives. The "political" actions of the New Left
can help no one relieve their immediate oppression.
We all must wait until "after the revolution". No
wonder women don't trust politics. The Left sounds
like it's giving a campaign speech. We can be sure
that if discussion isn't "personal" - if it doesn't
seem vital to our everyday lives - that it won't pro¬
duce change in our favor.
There can be no universal or lasting liberation
until there is female liberation. The oppression of
many different castes and classes of people is possible
only because the patterns of male dominance have not
been fundamentally destroyed. These patterns can only
be eliminated by the assertion of feminist principles
for they are historically as well as psychologically
linked with the oppression of the female.
The first division of labor was by sex. The ques¬
tion that has not yet been adequately answered deals
with why this division of labor resulted in the oppres
sion (i.e. the inability of a category of people to
define themselves and choose freely from equal possi¬
bilities) of the female by the male. There have been
and still are a few cultures in which women were "in
power", but, as I have mentioned, this did not result
in the oppression of the male. The answer probably
has something to do with men's fear of women. Whether
this was originally a fear of the unknown or the dif¬
ferent, of that which was not understood (the repro¬
ductive functions) , or of the blood of the menstrual
cycle, has yet to be discovered. Yet the taboos as¬
sociated with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and child
birth are the only taboos that all cultures have held
Men have been able to deal with their fear of women
only by institutionalizing her differences. By relat¬
ing to the abstract (religion, mores) men have con¬
tinued to feel in control of situations they otherwise
were afraid of. At any rate, the oppressor-oppressed
pattern was first established in the domination of the
female by the male. This pattern existed long before
the manifestations of private property and class oc¬
curred. There are some anthropological analyses that
declare that the downfall of a universal matriarchy
occurred when men conquered women and instituted a
class society. But there never has been a universal
matriarchy. Nor have all patriarchal cultures derived
from the overthrow of a matriarchal structure. If in¬
deed women held at least equal amounts of authority
with men, how could they submit to their own overthrow?
This seems to be a gross distortion of history that's
calculated to make women fight for the destruction of
class society if they want to be free. But class
society cannot be destroyed until competition, aggres¬
sion, hierarchy and power are dealt with fundamentally.
Only women's groups have questioned these in theory
and practice and worked with alternative structures.
Feminism undermines all assumptions in that it presents
and works with alternative institutions and its mani¬
festations affect the lives of everyone.
TARZAN HAD LONG HAIR TOO
There is a common idea that long hair on men is a
sign of today's liberation from sex roles, a symbol
of the approach toward unisex in attitudes, and a
step by men toward femininity.
I suggest it is just the opposite. Rebecca West,
in an article in Mademoiselle , says she hears in rock
music bullroarings, the advertisement of virility. I
suspect much the same can be said of long hair.
Longish hair on men is quite in style now, and I
take no exception to the general trend of the style;
in fact, for reasons I will go into later, I am in
favor of it. (For those who can't wait, a hint: anti¬
sex is antiwoman.)
What I'm talking about when I suggest that long
hair is a bullroaring of virility is the very deliber¬
ate, very serious expression of rebellion that is em¬
bodied in the hair of Hells Angels men, in the hair
of Frank Zappa, in the hair of the various rock musi¬
cians, hippies, and miscellaneous "freaks" who have
consciously cultivated a wild dangerous image, the
most striking characteristic of which is the long,
dirty-looking, unkempt hair.
If long hair is a rebellion against something, it
is against the society that demands that men be less
male, which is to say less bull-like, i.e. neat, clean
inoffensive. These virtues are "feminine." In rebel¬
lion against the society that forces them to be femi¬
ninely inoffensive, castrated, they grow their hair
long and unkempt and dirty, sticking out in all direc¬
tions, mortally offending and profoundly repulsing
most of society (not just the little old ladies but
even more, lower class and working people), which is
exactly the effect they wish to have.
Their girls (the "chicks") approve of them for this
manly arrogance in not caring what society thinks of
them, for rejecting the castration society wants to
impose on them. Cutting off Samson's hair symbolizes
castration? no woman wants to be a Delilah, jealous of
her man's strength.
Very long hair on men is not feminine. It is "femi
nine" to want to be attractive, appealing. Women may
wish to be daring, but never offensive, never repul¬
sive. Women are always conscious of how they are
affecting others. They may choose to make statements
of originality, imaginativeness, modernity, etc. with
their appearance, but they never wish to appear ugly,
dirty, frightening, or vicious—looking.
Long hair on men may be repulsive for more compli¬
cated reasons than that it looks dirty and ugly. The
fact that these men choose to rebel at all is danger¬
ous and frightening.
Elizabeth Hardwick in her Mademoiselle article
says: "The violent resentment of the long-haired
young man is a measure of the greater importance ac¬
corded to the behavior of boys, the threat their
swerving from the traditional paths poses for all of
society. The masculine role is not a preference;
upon it almost every institution of society depends:
government, business, medicine, law, police, defense,
heavy labor, sports."
But the hero lives by his own rules. Women may
be determined by duty, but the real man determines
his own life, and if that means rejecting all the
values of his parents and his world, it is his pride
to do that.
The point of this article is not to suggest that
the freedom to actualize or express a creative indi¬
viduality is bad, or that wildness (in its good sense
a tonic to civilization—as Thoreau: "In Wildness is
the preservation of the World.") , should be chained
or repressed or cemented over. I do not believe in
castration, physical or psychological, of men or
And I do not doubt that there is an honest element
of constructive freedom and healthy wildness in those
expressions which are the most shocking, the most
offensive to the narrow, repressed, frightened
However, there is no need, in my view, for freedom
or wildness to be offensive to our sense of civil¬
ization. And if there are aspects of wildness that
are offensive to that sense, as for instance the
violence of the kill-or-be-killed aspect of nature,
that is forgiveable to the extent that it is innocent,
which is to say to the extent that it is not inten¬
Animals function as best they can in the interests
of the survival of the species; the black widow spider
devours her mate after copulation so she will not
starve between fertilization and the laying of her
eggs—well fed, she is content to let him go.
Nor is it the point
of the article that it
is bad to rebel against
the repression of sexu¬
ality. I would, of
course, like to see that
repression replaced with
something more humane
and respectful, more
conscious of human dig¬
nity and intelligence,
than the flaunted rut¬
ting that is the usual
"cure" for "middle class
I see intentional
offensiveness in much
of this deliberate ugli¬
ness, this cultivation
of a dirty and dangerous
The repressed, the
"hung-up," are having
the "cure" shoved down
their throats. While I
don't deny that shock
can be effective, in
this case I think it
will not work: partly because I do not believe that
the counter life style offered is a moral one, but
mainly because the "cure" is being presented with no
analysis of the cause of the disease.
Sexual repression is a symptom. Its causes are
mixed. Two elements are relevant here.
There is a large element of fear of women, fear of
women's sexuality, the feeling that women are repul¬
sive in their sexuality. Both men and women suffer
from that last feeling, and it's a problem that will
probably persist as long as women are sexual material
for men rather than transcendent human beings with
whom men must deal as individuals.
And there is another feeling, the feeling that
comes in response to sexist sexuality, when women are
used sexually by men who consider them slightly sub¬
human, men who are struggling with their own fear of
women and their sense of women's repulsiveness.
When parents wish to protect their young daughter
from sex, they both remember what sex meant, when they
were young: the mother remembers how she felt used,
soiled, perhaps how she was treated with contempt
afterwards. The father remembers how he callously
used girls in his youth, and doesn't want anyone
treating his daughter, whom he loves, in that way.
These parents might even be aware that nonexploi-
tative love and sex are possible, in theory, and still
go to great lengths to protect their daughter from the
sort of sex they know (or believe) is waiting for her.
That sort of sex is dirty, by anyone's definition.
For the most part I find it appropriate that most
of society is offended by the dirty and dangerous
look. It is meant to be offensive, and that comes
across very well.
The various excuses offered—that the long hair is
unsanitary, or that you can't tell the boys from the
girls—are just excuses. The real reason it is of¬
fensive is that it intends to offend. It is anti¬
intellectual and a violent and insensitive rejection
of values people cherish.
The last thing men want to do is to look like
women. To make sure there is no confusion, the long-
hairs usually also sport beards, mustaches, and/or
sideburns. In fact, as longer hair has become more
fashionable for "straight" men, it is interesting to
note that sideburns have appeared simultaneously,
lengthening with the hair.
It is not this slightly longer hair that is offen¬
sive, of course. The boyish Kennedy shag, the Paul
McCartney thatch that invites the exploration of
feminine fingers into its clean sensual softness,
these have been looked askance at, certainly, but
they have never repulsed anyone, even when they were
ahead of fashion.
In fact, short hair, for example a marine crew cut
these days when shaggy hair on men is fashionable and
expected, is perhaps even more objectionable. This is
a case of going to the other extreme to avoid resem¬
And simple fear of resembling women is not all
that's involved in painfully short hair on men. It is
an anti-sex phenomenon, which naturally means anti¬
woman. Afraid of women, repulsed by women's dangerous
genitals, they are therefore repulsed by and afraid of
sexuality in general, including their own. To deal
with this they cut their hair short, as a rejection of
sensuality, freedom, luxury, etc.
Hair traditionally represents energy. Body hair on
men represents baser forces, hair on the head spiritual
forces. Hair also represents fertility, a symbolism
apparently stronger in the mystique surrounding long
hair on women.
Although the sym¬
bolism of spiritual
force is clearly
present in the case
of the Offensively
Hairy, it seems that
much of the body
hair symbolism has
become involved in
it, partly perhaps
because it gives the
appearance of being
an extension of un¬
controlled body hair.
The different sig¬
nificance of long
hair on men and
women is striking.
For women long hair
is feminine, lushly
fertile ( mother
earth), passive, womanly, sexy, objectifying, romantic,
impractical, old-fashioned. On men it is virile, re¬
bellious, a symbol of strength (Samson), a proclama¬
tion of his existence in a state of nature, uncivili¬
zed and undomesticated (Tarzan).
Personally, I mistrust the primitive. I have never
noticed that women fared very well when men were emu¬
We are now seeing what may be beginnings of a trend
toward men cutting their hair. John Lennon, Ringo,
even (unless the picture I saw was misleading) Frank
Zappa. This is mainly a backing off from the vir¬
ility statement of the long hair. It was just too
much of a struggle to maintain that image against the
would-be castrators; it seems easier to be a little
less virile and consequently a little more anonymous.
It is also something else. Men discovered, as women
always knew, that long hair is a drag: it is imprac¬
tical, difficult to care for, to keep clean and out of
The virility statement may not turn out to be worth
the loss of privacy (being shouted at on the street
by "straights") and loss of freedom and comfort ("Oh,
no, I don't have a rubber band with me!") . It will be
interesting to see whether men do give long hair up as
a drag, and if so, whether they can learn to relax
about virility or if they merely substitute something
EVE'S SEX UNDER GOD’S LAW
All religions have evolved from the unequal rela¬
tionship of the male sex to the female, and have been
grounded in a prehistoric acceptance of the different
kinds of labor each sex was best fitted to perform for
the survival of the entire society. Early statues of
female deities with swollen breasts and heavy hips
show that the female was indistinguishable from her
role as breeder. Later goddesses like the Egyptian
Isis and the Babylonian Astarte, the Greek Demeter
and Roman Cybele retain a close identification with
the prostrate, passive earth. Plowed and seeded,
their flesh brought forth new life? to their wombs
it returned to decay and die. Certain goddesses had
taught women how to plant crops, to weave cloth and
make tools needed for agricultural and domestic work.
Household ceremonies reminded mankind of their life-
giving generosity. But these same goddesses presided
at the crises of birth and death. The virgin Artemis
and the withered and ghostly Hecate were both aspects
of the moon's cycle.
Man, the hunter and warrior, worshipped a horned god
whose aggressive energy insured men's success in secur¬
ing meat for the community. The essential character¬
istic of this god was sexual potency. Stone phalli
symbolized his intimidating energy. In the heavens,
man found gods who carried on wars (resembling his)
in an attempt to secure control of the cosmos. The
sun was the giver of light and order; its free energy
mastered the expanse of the earth. Myths told how day
triumphed over night. The isolation of light from
darkness was Yahweh's first creative act. Greek Zeus
conquered all enemies to become the father of a gener¬
ation of gods, a law-giver, but still he behaved like
a trickster. Part of the role of a god or hero was to
outwit rival challengers. The peace that male deities
established over the female earth was based on a state
of continual watchfulness and petty warfare. Eventu¬
ally a firm hierarchy was asserted that grouped female
and male divinities into "families" within regions of
authority; there were deities of the ocean, of the
earth and of the heavens. And over all existed the
paternal protection of a Zeus, or a Jupiter or a
Males constructed civilization upon what they ab¬
stracted. Men were the formulators of ideas (that is,
an abstract ordering of material data) and women the
fleshly substance of those intellectual conceptions.
Men used cognitive thought to handle the problems of
living and women used intuitive perception. The
"ideas" men created to organize and dominate nature
were come to by objectifying and making alien the
material which these ideas defined. Man asserted him¬
self against things and against that producer of human
"things", woman, in order to get beyond his circum¬
stance of being animal. He institutionalized this
struggle in a succession of ideologies, beginning with
religion on the level of "magic". Gradually, he re¬
cognized that the world had begun from a primal chaos,
from a state of no word, of no name strong enough to
command any particle of the chaos into rational order.
This pre-conscious state of the universe was female.
"Nature" was the term man became able to use when he
had reached a stage of consciously separating himself
from, and exploiting a part of that universe. This
happened when males as a group began to understand
their freedom from the physical effects of reproduc¬
tion to mean a right to clan or gens ownership of
God (a deification and a reassurance of that domi¬
nation man fought to exert over natural processes) was
revealed to have created every individual creature by
His Word, His Breath. Each item in His program of life
was bound, therefore, to submit to His law. His under¬
standing. This was religious reality. Woman parti¬
cipated in it only as she was called forth and given
duties by God.
The Christian systems of Catholicism and Protes¬
tantism have described and regulated what was to be
called Reality. Millions of European and American
females have been forced to accept the nature Chris¬
tianity has assigned them and to examine their daily
life and conduct according to what it has taught was
"good" for each sex. Its outlines are still apparent
in the mental, emotional, and physical training given
Although Catholicism matured as a feudal institution
and Protestantism originated and evolved as the expres¬
sion of middle class needs, both systems have organized
female people and female awareness (qualities females
developed by caring for children and males) for the
benefit of male people. God placed females under the
protection of fathers, husbands and brothers. He then
organized males under the authority of certain power¬
ful men, who, by fact of birth, wealth, or ability to
compete aggressively, were believed destined to be
superior protectors of other males. The ideas of
church (a spiritual body to which every Christian
belonged by baptism, and in which all classes and both
sexes were made equal by grace) and state (the enfor¬
ced protection of all life and property by an armed
nobility) constituted the whole of society.
Religion always serves to explain how the particu¬
lar, as a single self or as part of a human grouping,
is related to the cosmic. The dualism established by
conceiving female as other than male, set male against
female. Female character was seen as external, myste¬
rious and threatening to male existence. Western
theology and philosophy elaborated on the contradiction
between the categories of male order (names and laws)
and female chaos (phenomena), of mind and body, spirit
and matter. "Passive" matter was subordinate to
"active" spirit. Just as the male sperm was thought
to animate inert menstrual blood accumulated in the
female's womb, the radiant Word of God was believed
to give form and significance to human society.
The medieval church can be understood as an earthly
model of the City of God, the Universal Kingdom of
Christ. Heaven was mapped out as a supra-physical
region and was administered like a Roman city-state or
a feudal fief. God demanded loyalty and obedience
from the inhabitants of his domain. Their rights
were granted them from above, according to His Will.
Functions of nobles and princes were sanctified with
church ceremonies; for example, a ruler's coronation
and the ceremony of knighthood. Princes, along with
bishops and abbots, administered a law that they re¬
ceived from divine authority. This law described and
protected each subordinant social grouping.
Simultaneously there existed another contrary
authority-the Devil, a former angel who had challenged
the established power with his own pride and been cast
down to the subterranean region. Hell. All creatures
that did not turn to God, were natural prey for Satan's
heresy. The church taught that original sin was in¬
herent in flesh; men and women inherited the mortal
consequences of Adam and Eve's disobedient craving to
make their own decisions. Their act of eating fruit
from the tree of knowledge brought about sexual aware¬
ness and reproduction. To take pleasure from inter¬
course would be to submit to mortality. Since it was
the female who first succumbed to the seduction of the
world, a male for his salvation could not take delight
in her flesh. Marriage permitted a man to procreate
offspring but chastity was valued as a higher disci¬
pline to be practiced by the clergy and monastic or¬
The evil in people expressed itself first in over¬
bearing pride or in greed. Pride overthrew the order
of loyalties; it was an usurpation of importance and
power inappropriate to the person's given position.
It brought about uncontrolled rage or, conversely,
deep despair. Greed introduced envy, an unsatisfied
craving for things. A distinction was made between
these mental sins and the sins of the flesh, like in¬
temperance and lust. These latter belonged to the
mundane world to which women were assigned. Lust was
pictured as a woman holding a mirror, but Pride was
shown as a man being thrown down from his horse.
Catholicism recognized that masculine thought might
try to master life without God's permission. Woman,
being sensual flesh, simply seduced man to challenge
God; her Vanity only reflected his aggression and
never expressed an equivalent human pride.
Evil deeds were poten¬
tial heresy because they
implied an alienation
from God. They threat¬
ened the ordained func¬
tioning of Catholic so¬
ciety. The economic
control of the landowning
church over the lives of
the baptized had been
given abstract justifi¬
cation by declaring that
only the Church could
offer God's saving grace
to death-doomed humanity.
Daily, during the Mass, God's grace transformed the
material elements of bread and wine into food for the
spirit. All changes in society, all occurrences or
developments in people not clearly sanctioned by this
grace might be the work of the Anti-Christ (the apoc¬
alyptic form of Satan).
The program of salvation promoted by Catholicism
emphasized obedience and good works. The highest
form of Christian life was a monastic or priestly
asceticism. Such practice required the dedication
of all of one's physical and mental efforts toward
a life remote from the ordinary life most people found
it necessary to lead. The isolation and rigid self-
control it demanded were more appropriate to male be¬
havior than to female. Women were taught to suppress
physical pain and feelings of despair in order to sur¬
vive. When entering the nunnery they put aside a need
to be physically beautiful in order better to dedicate
their affections and actions to a spiritual husband -
Christ. Control by a husband who demanded offspring
and pleasure was exchanged for a law which denied the
value of these desires and humiliated a woman for her
completely sexual role. A man, when he became a monk,
gave up his personal claim to property, and placed his
personal aggressiveness at the service of the Church,
with whose male hierarchy he could closely identify
himself. His voluntary joining of the brotherhood of
the Church existed as an important and glorious de¬
cision. It depended upon the existence of church
estates, monastic production and donated treasure.
Self-discipline took outward forms in fasting, absolute
chastity, the giving up of all personal possessions,
even in the punishment of the body by flagellation,
etc. These actions vividly testified to the ideas
the Church held about the spiritually pure state.
Those masses of men and women who could not afford
to practice asceticism were rewarded, according to
their obedience (humility) , with grace derived from the
accumulated deeds of saints and martyrs. The poor,
the serfs, females and children were instructed to
imitate the pure life of the spirit by giving their
time, goods and trust to those institutions and per¬
sons tangibly embodying God's idea of what was best.
Through unquestioning devotion they could counteract
the harmful effects of being female, not adult, or
inferior in class. Various pictures were drawn to
describe the common route to heaven. One was the
Ladder of Virtue. Those climbing up rung by rung
are offered aid from above by saints and angels (the
hierarchy of heaven) in their struggle to reach God.
Mercy was the healing power that God, as feudal
lord, exercised on behalf of sinners. Gradually this
reprieve from death and from the tortures of hell was
begged for and granted through a female intermediary:
the Virgin was elevated to mediate between the mas¬
culine demand for absolute order and human (feminine)
perversity. Mercy, the medieval antidote for arbitrary
violence and for the physical injustices of the world
system was never a legitimate part of the order. It
was provided supernaturally through paternal compas¬
sion. The real contradiction that existed between
the abilities of poor and rich, of males and females
to follow the rule of the church was obscured by the
artifice of a superimposed mercy.
Humility also seemed to smooth out contradictions.
A humble person bore the flaming anger of princes, the
brutality of men, neglect, starvation and pregnancy.
From this virtue blossomed faith, hope and charity.
The governing virtues of courage, prudence and justice
that belonged to the warrior, the monarch and to the
church militant were ranked above these feminine and
The cult of the Virgin Mary introduced another role
for "woman", this time within Christianity. Eve had
been called the downfall of mankind; she deserved to
be portrayed prone beneath God's judgment. It was she
who would continue to tempt man away from God through
her deadly affinity for the serpent. Mary, chaste and
maternal, declared herself the humble servant of God's
purpose. Her sympathy could be counted on to work for
mankind? the suffering and impoverished could turn to
her aid and through her concern feel themselves part
of the Church. Imitation of Mary was the official
late-medieval program for women? but females themselves
continued to be aware of their kinship to Eve. Again
and again she was shown crouching at the base of an
image of Mary. The church questioned whether females
had a real interest in supporting God's rule. They
might easily give their attention to the devil, who
was not remote in heaven. Woman's female organs bound
her to Nature, and Nature in its malevolent aspects,
as well as in its tamed appearance, was personified
in her. In mastering a woman a man reasserted his
ordained rule. If a woman was not wife, mother or
daughter, she was to be suspected and feared as witch
The witch maintained a relationship with plants and
animals that men, and above all, the Church, consider¬
ed contrary to the knowledge of the world that God re¬
vealed to mankind. Intelligence belonged to the edu¬
cated clerics? they defined what was rational. Women
were not only illiterate but they possessed strange
intuitive insight, as yet not organized in any positive
way into male society. A witch could deform, wither,
abort and drive insane. She exercised these powers
because she was still part beast, intimate with the
monstrous energy of nature. Her cycles of sensation
could give birth to destruction as readily as to life.
Further, women who claimed and used this "feminine"
power outside of the Christian boundaries were known
to be serving the Devil. Woman had betrayed man, and
above all, God. Christian feudalism understood this
disloyalty as deliberate subservience to the wrong
lord. Her perverse actions had to be attributed to
the influence of some other male image. Witches were
tortured to exort accounts of their devotion to this
demonic master. They worshipped him with their bodies.
devoting to him what was most unholy in Christian
doctrine. Among other horrors, it was believed that
witches murdered their own children to devour them or
drink their blood during a Black Mass. It was clear
that any female was a potential sorceress. Her posi¬
tion of wife, mother, daughter or nun gave her some
safety from such an accusation. Forced testimony
and volunteered confessions all declared the same
truth: the witch was not able to dominate the cosmos
she inhabited, she only served and embodied its evil
Protestantism altered this medieval universe by re¬
placing the requirements of the Catholic nobility with
the needs of the middle class. Behind these altera¬
tions in dogma and practice the same attitude toward
mind and matter persisted, the same desire to make the
female an obedient servant of the "good” husband.
The Catholic state had existed as a somewhat uneasy
coalition of feudal princes and feudal bishops. The
church had its own courts and laws, its taxes and
soldiers, while the princes drew upon a sacred autho¬
rity made unquestionable by the ceremony of coronation.
By the 15th century control of reality began to be
taken over by another class, the bourgeosie, whose
wealth came from their individual struggle to accu¬
mulate and redistribute capital, and not from their
possession of a physical territory. Worldly and spir¬
itual governments could no longer be based on a feudal
model. Gradually the private family became the source
and the pattern for the new national states and for
Lutheranism, Calvinism and Puritanism, etc. As an
institution, the church was visibly separate from
secular government; but as a system of thought Pro¬
testantism was even more carefully incorporated into
every aspect of business and community through family
worship and education.
The family was limited and its ties were more in¬
timate than in the preceding centuries. The concept
of the blood line diminished in value as the impor¬
tance of the husband increased. Previously, females
held legal existence only within marriage; beyond its
boundaries they were able occasionally to exercise
some of the male's powers. As the family changed,
women were recognized as creatures to be controlled
from birth on. Laws firmly protected their position
within the family hierarchy. At the same time, the
roles of wife and mother took on emotional auras.
This trend expressed itself in Catholicism in the cult
of the Holy Family. Joseph was dignified as husband
and Mary was reduced to doting mother.
True knowledge was no
longer kept exclusively
to the ordained; all who
could read had access to
the fundamental source
of Revelation-the Bible.
The Catholic church claim¬
ed to provide, through the
sacraments, the sole means
of grace available to man.
But Protestantism declared
that such grace could be
experienced directly in
individual commitment to
God's inner law, to the
truth written in each and
every heart. The Protestant church functions as a
guardian that points out and protects this revelation.
Each faithful Christian is in the same relation to God
and to the world that a priest is, yet there is no need
for him to wear special clothes, be celibate, or in
other ways deny his need to participate in everyday
The power of God, heaven and hell are still external
to society, but the judgment of the sinner is not just
in the future (after the apocalyptic Battle of Armeg-
gedon); right thinking (faith) is visible in a person's
earthly career. The Kingdom of God is enjoyed in pre¬
sent wealth, wisdom and prestige.
The program of salvation that Protestantism taught
was based on an internalized asceticism. Participation
in the world must be controlled by reason. The indi¬
vidual's will-energy motivates him to action that is,
at the same time, concrete and moral. The Protestant
conception of morality is bound up with the "scientif¬
ic" law of cause and effect that describes material
states and the changes that occur in phenomena. God
does not require human beings to be monks and nuns,
yet a Christian must be detached from the pleasures
and distresses of his or her situation. "Good" acts
were particular actions within the family and society/
not extraordinary demonstrations of poverty or chas¬
tity. Instead/ the love of the husband for his wife
and her obedience to him were fundamental examples of
the right conduct expected from human beings. The
justness of the father was ultimately the righteous¬
ness of the whole family/ and the family's virtue was
that of the state.
Prosperity was proof of "election" to the ranks of
the godly. Failure to obtain wealth or prestige was
viewed as a crime/ not just against God, but against
the right functioning of the state. Poverty f ignor¬
ance, disease, etc., occurred to punish the individual
for not being committed to God.
The Catholic duality of good and evil had to be re¬
vised to suit this emergence of rational conscience
and individual responsibility. Un-controlled egotism,
uncensured emotionality, the intuitive, the non-rati-
onal are evil. Egotism was an emotional assertion of
power contrary to the workings of Reason. Such a
violent demand for control criminally assaulted the
legitimate society. Sin originated in bad will, the
inability of the mind to control bodily passions.
Since faith rests on a personal decision to dedicate
the self to God, everyone is responsible for the qua¬
lity of his or her existence. A person deserves the
fortune or misfortune that occurs. It compounded a
man or woman's evil for him or for her to rebel against
poverty, bad treatment, and child bearing. Virtues no
longer solely derived from or contributed to the sacred
character of nobility. Instead, the elevation of
thrift, orderliness, honesty and industry to virtues
sanctioned the behavior of the merchants, manufac¬
turers and artisans. These qualities were also essen¬
tial to a tidy, pleasant and prosperous home. Both
men and women were exhorted to practice thrift and
honesty but the woman realized her virtue through
careful household management. A man demonstrated
his virtue by running an efficient business.
By marriage a man acquired his principal servant.
His ancestor Adam had been given Eve as a helpmate.
A Husband's first duty was to control the irrational
nature of his wife and to bend it to the use of so¬
ciety. This paternal government was seen as a clear
analogy of how God cared for his unchaste and erratic
The new idea that females were child-like, unable
to learn, to think rationally or to recognize the
black/white distinctions between good and evil, was
a further development of the early identification of
the female with the temporal life of her body. Little
children had to be educated away from the barbarism
of their flesh. Female children were limited by phy¬
sical conditions from learning or understanding the
behavior that civilized male children. Usually they
were not taught to read. Since a female had no in¬
tellectual training her conversation was taken to be
only an emotional expression of her physical respon¬
ses. Therefore for her own salvation she was re¬
quired to turn to the guidance and authority of a
husband, who would then stand as responsible for any
failing that her greater weakness might bring.
No opportunity was made for females to acquire the
knowledge that men were using to construct a techno¬
logical industrial society. Instead her domestic
labor was increasingly romanticized. Daily life was
compartmentalized into business .(outside the home)
and the solitary, private work done inside it. The
concept of individuality increased a man's mobility
since it allowed him to become more and more detached
from the sacred blood community (his lineage) in which
his self had been submerged.
Individualism did not benefit the female so immedi¬
ately. On the contrary, what were practical techni¬
ques for curing sickness, for gardening, in fact, all
the ingenious household methods perfected over the
centuries by females, appeared increasingly petty and
absurd when compared to male systems of science,
medicine, physics and chemistry. Men had begun to
do very different things than they did a few centuries
before, but women followed the same rituals. They
were left to study in immense detail the areas to
which they, as females, were confined. They learned
what went into a stew or a coat or the growth of a
child, but they were not expected to change circum¬
stances, simply to make sure that all went well. This
meant that all aspects of any one thing had to be ob¬
served and accepted as part of the development of that
thing. Females perceived life in shades of grey.
Built into male intellectual systems was the ab¬
solute separation of a good (real) element from a bad
(unreal) element. Positive thought depended on denying
reality to what could not be rationally conceived.
Females were not able to use this sort of analysis
and judgment since these tools contradicted a female's
acceptance of both good and bad qualities in persons
and events. Rational decision depended on the appro¬
bation of one half and the degradation of the other
half of a single whole. Because of this, females could
not be intellectually decisive like males. Women con¬
tinued to be aware of both sides of the world and to
be immobilized by the maternal concern that was expec¬
ted of them.
No other method was available to enable women to
abstract ideas and theories from female experience.
When a woman wanted to define her personality as valid,
as real,she had to adopt the abstract, other-worldly
terminology that religion offered her. Yet the struc¬
ture of that religious reality rested on her inability
to master the conditions of her existence. The sen¬
timents taught her in church sermons and prayer books
strengthened her tendency to rely entirely on intu¬
ition and good emotions to alter what was unbearable.
Because her position was derived from her husband,
her god, the best way to affect reality was by in¬
fluencing his mind.
Men accepted the fact that they did not understand
females. They did not need to know more than her out¬
line in order to fit her into their plans. A man
stated: "I think, I know", but a woman had to make
the bold assertation: "I feel", and wait until the
emotion had been judged by men. Mystical passion had
belonged to the spiritual elite of the middle ages,
a few of whom had been women. As the area of what
was called religion contracted, this emotion became
fanciful and extravagant rather than visionary and
was assigned to women. Devotion to God had been a
pure expression of the feudal hierarchy, a loyalty
that was rewarded with mental superiority and pres¬
tige. In the succeeding centuries it became a com¬
pletely human-centered erotic feeling, binding females
closer and closer to their sexuality. A females' know¬
ledge was restricted to her personal and private re¬
sponse to events. Her language did not contain terms
to objectify and dignify what happened to her. Pro¬
testantism refined a series of old-fashioned nouns
and adjectives that she was forced to rely on to
frame her conception of what caused her despair and
misery. The Devil was still an external master/ a
horned demon who made blood covenants with his ser¬
vants. But more and more he existed within her as a
secret corruption that in extreme moments produced
hysteria and convulsions. Dreams and fantasies of
her bestial state pursued her. Only the church reached
out to exhort her to follow carefully/ humbly all the
outlines established by paternal government for her
Within the family the wife was placed between her
husband and her children; in the church females made
up the body of the congregation/ absorbing God's
word. They devoted themselves to this abstract re¬
velation giving it actual meaning by their desire to
believe in it. A woman prepared home remedies for the
sick, gave to charities what time and money her hus¬
band approved. Her continued association with the
church reinforced her great determination to be a
good Christian. Performing these services she forgot,
or did not notice her struggle for goodness was neces¬
sitated by a deep conviction of her natural suscep¬
tibility to evil. Of her abiding worthlessness. If
a man was tempted by the world, she played the temp¬
tress. The church conceived of her as man had chosen
to conceive of her - as the material of the universe:
chaotic, fruitful and destructive, but always to be
shaped into intelligence by his mental power - his will.
"I permit no woman to teach or to have authority
over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed
first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the
woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet
woman will be saved through bearing children, if she
continues in faith and love and holiness, with mo¬
I Timothy 2: 9-15
WHY CAN * T MEN LISTEN TO WOMEN?
One common test of whether a man can accept the
equality of women is whether or not he is able to lis¬
ten to women. Very few can, although a good many are
quite expert at appearing to listen. Most men think
of women as inferiors (even if her IQ is higher than
his) and never seriously consider really listening to
A person will listen to another if he expects the
other person to say something of value. But in the
case of men, some worthwhile ideas by women are not of
value to them if they think it will become known that
the ideas came from a woman. Such is the cultural
training of men who seem unable to forget that sing¬
song refrain heard in childhood: ''Talking to a gir-ul!
Talking to a gir-ul!" It threatened him with social
ostracism if he did not conform; men act as if they
still hear it when they talk to women.
Most men simply tune out when a woman gets outside
a permissible sphere of domestic and social welfare
and into the world of policy-making ideas. The reac¬
tion is powerful and physical. They become agitated,
disconcerted, and deaf. No matter how you sneak up on
the subject, an automatic governor seems to warn men
that you are getting into the forbidden area, and their
ears and minds close in instant protective reaction.
Many men make no pretense at listening. They do not
want to hear any woman's ideas and employ three common
methods of silencing the woman who persists in trying
to be heard: 1) ignore her ("Did you say something,
dear?"). 2) ridicule her ("Ho! Ho! What a funny idea!")
or 3) attack her ("You must be stupid if you think that
idea has any merit.") Whatever the method, she gets
the message: he doesn't want to talk to me on this
subject. She may also get another message: something
is wrong with men that they cannot listen to women
without feeling personally threatened. Unfortunately,
some women get a different message: I must be pretty
A few other men, especially if they know you are in¬
terested in female liberation, have learned how to
effect a listening pose, although underneath their pro¬
blem is still the same. This new-style man listens so
hard to what you say that he can finish your sentences
for you. It would be ungrateful of you to suggest that
it was not what you intended to say, when he is making
such an effort to show you he considers you an equal
and that he recognizes a worthy thought; it was some¬
thing he might have said himself. It's his way of
telling you how smart he thinks you are.
More aggravating is the man who asks your opinion
with great show of accepting you equally but then does
not listen to your answer, telling his own opinion in¬
stead. Particularly if you pause for a moment to
think about his question and how best to articulate a
thoughtful answer to it, he will rush in to help you
out. It is as if to say that he knows you don't have
an answer and he is eager to save you the embarrass¬
ment of the long silence or of saying something stuoid.
The most obvious non-listener of those who pretend
to hear is the one who nods and agrees in order to
hurry you through to a conclusion so he can go back to
what he was saying before you began. Or, another will
launch into such a well-organized refutation when you
finish that you know he was not really considering
your idea but only scanning it for flaws to build up
his argument designed to demolish your idea as soon as
you stopped talking. And, finally, men in general
seem to have a compulsive need to pass judgment on
every idea you present, either favorably or unfavorably,
as if you were submitting the idea for their approval.
They seem unable to simply listen to your idea and
think about it.
If a woman persists in rejecting these men's efforts
to avoid listening to her, if she insists upon being
heard as an intellectual equal, she is called a "cas¬
trating female." But why should listening to a woman
threaten a man's sexual identity? What is this ter¬
rible insecurity that haunts men? What is it that
makes most men incapable of an equal relationship with
Women get sick of being forced to change the sub¬
ject to the limited area that a man feels comfortable
in. She is tired of having to talk down to him as if
he were a child, because he is unable to talk with
her as an equal.
THE PLEA FOR GRADUALISM
The plea for gradualism usually comes from men who
(they would like us to believe) are solicitous for the
success of our movement, but who are actually made
profoundly nervous by the idea of any far-reaching
liberation of women from womanhood into personhood.
They warn us, helpfully, that we should deal with
the "more obvious" issues, the ones we "can hope to
win at", by which they mean the public issues such as
Women who hear this advice as a thinly veiled threat
("don't be so greedy or we won't give you anything ")
and who feel that their advancement depends upon win¬
ning the hearts and minds of men, are frightened into
Unfortunately, the modest and ladylike approach of
devoting your energies to working for your legal rights
to job equality will never change women's material
situation in any significant way.
First of all, it's logically inconsistent to accept
social inferiority but demand job equality. If women
are to be subservient to men in the home, why should
they have any different relation to men in the world
Secondly, unless these basic relations are changed,
it will be impossible in practice to win any equality
or respect in the public world.
Men's relation to women on a personal level is the
most basic relation, and their treatment of them on a
public level is merely a superficial expression of
It's true that we see that some men can learn to
cope with the phenomenon of women who are their equals,
or almost their equals, in the working world, as long
as their cozy domestic arrangement with its physical
and psychological comforts is not disturbed.
But they can rationalize that these few women
colleagues are not threats to the profitable doctrine
of male supremacy because working women are not true
women but misfits; if they were successful as women
they wouldn't have to seek fulfillment in the male
However capable the women may be, the men need never
think of them as ultimately equal since their essential
natures are as biological (sexual) creatures (wives
and mothers) and they have failed at that. Ultimately,
then, the more successful a woman is the more pathetic
That reassuring knowledge, plus his stock of
"gallantries*' that simultaneously illustrate and pre¬
serve the social inferiority of women and his stock of
stereotypes of "women bosses" (aggressive, paranoid,
lesbian, possessed of all the male qualities that are
unlovely in women plus all the feminine qualities like
over-emotionalism that men consider themselves above)
—all this permits a man to tolerate a fair number of
women having some degree of job "equality"—especially
if there aren't enough qualified men to fill the jobs.
But as long as men keep their basic attitudes about
women's nature the women will be thrown out as fast as
there are enough qualified male applicants. And why
not? The men are the breadwinners, the women are just
occupying themselves. Let them go home and have babies
and bake bread and make love.
And in fact society as a whole would never permit
all women to go to work (even if the economy could
absorb them) because it would destroy the family as we
It is exactly this family, the cozy little domestic
arrangement we mentioned, that we weren't going to
touch out of fear that it might turn some men off, men
who might otherwise have been willing to set aside
their prejudices and give us a job if we could convince
them that it was profitable.
The trouble is that men often think it is unprofit¬
able to hire women because of their prejudices, because
of their most basic attitudes toward women and their
investment in women's social inferiority. These
prejudices make them think things about women that
prove the women are unsuitable, or at best less
But it's not just a matter of lack of information.
The information is available, often right before their
eyes in their own departments. The misinformation ,
the myths about women as inferior workers, is created
because the men have strong prejudices, strong invest¬
ments in women's social inferiority. The myths are
not the cause of the prejudice.
And you can't talk people into setting aside
prejudice. You can put some pressure on them through
legal means to restrain their natural instincts. But
this is not as easy as it sounds: you must win over not
just the legislators but the enforcement bureaus and
the courts—currently all strongly sexist just like
the rest of society, with strong prejudices about wo¬
men's proper place and the sort of woman who would re¬
gister a legal complaint that she was discriminated
Moreover, even if there existed no prejudice at all
on the part of employers, many women still would not
want to work. They have been too well taught that
their place is in the home; that marriage is the only
honorable career for a woman; that it's a nasty world
out there, one only a man's stronger constitution could
stand up against; that it is unethical for them to go
to work and take a job away from a breadwinner; that
a woman's "competing" with her husband by going to
work is castrating to him (ruining their sex life no
doubt), that working women are unfeminine and unattrac¬
tive; that her children will become juvenile delin¬
quents if she doesn't stay with them all day; that if
she loves her husband and wants a good marriage she
will devote herself to his needs, physical and emo¬
tional, making herself and the house she runs a cozy
refuge for him.
Change the social condition of women, and you under¬
mine the attitudes not just of the employers but of
the legislators and the judges too, and of the women
who are afraid to take the jobs lest they fail as wo¬
men. If women have the right to be equally legitimate
autonomous human beings, not subservient to men in
social situations or in the family, then their right
to job equality is clear. As long, on the other hand,
as women take a secondary and complementary role so¬
cially and in the family, there will always be a cer¬
tain logic to discriminating against them in the
"In our culture men are unsexed by failure, women
An increasingly detailed study of human societies
brings out evidence of the female's enslavement to
her biological function of reproduction. In ancient
(or contemporary) matrilineal societies a child's
descent is determined through its mother. The father
is considered less important as an individual than
the totality of the clan of which the mother is a
part. The rearing of a male child is entrusted to
the mother's brother (the child's uncle). The acti¬
vities of the males are different from those of the
females; even in those few societies where men take
care of little children/ a woman is first defined by
her role as breeder. It was important throughout
history that she bear as many new persons as possible,
since so few survived infancy.
The female's intimate relationship with natural
processes of life, while restricting her mobility,
benefited her when the male had very little control
over nature. But his mobility, the freedom of his
activities from internal processes of pregnancy, even
at that early time gave him a basis for his intellec¬
tual and technical advance - a scientific progress
which would only in secondary ways lighten the labor
of females for the species. It is with this know¬
ledge in mind that the questions of birth control and
abortion should be considered. The word female refers
to the fruit or egg-producing members of a species.
At first female people were thought to mysteriously
contain the life force, and conversely, during men¬
struation and old age to produce degeneration and
death in persons and crops. It seemed correct to
put responsibility for fertility upon a woman. As
individual men came to tame nature for their property,
to distinguish themselves as masters and fathers from
the continuing community of females, the power of the
male seed was recognized as activating woman's pas¬
sive womb. She was responsible now only for nourish¬
ing his life power; she was not able to decide when
and under what conditions she was to do this work.
In becoming the property of man within the family sys¬
tem, her status was degraded. Any demands she might
have made to benefit as man did from his evolving in¬
dividuality were retarded. Her dependence on his
cooperation in feeding the child became the basis of
a system of male protection that institutionalized her
physical weakness, emotional instability and sexual
Woman was treated as if she were a field for growing
crops. If she overproduced or became pregnant by in¬
cest or adultery, abortion was practiced on her as the
most normal method of limiting bad effects to society.
Primitive means for aborting for instance like extreme
physical exertion, heat or irritants applied to the
skin, or instruments inserted into the uterus in¬
variably involved suffering and danger to the woman.
Only when the fetus had "quickened" (moved in the womb)
was it considered a living being and the operation
termed illegal. The Christian church of the Middle
Ages condemned abortion as murder, but since it accep¬
ted the theory that fetal growth developed in three
stages (vegetable, animal, and rational), it tended to
condemn only the abortion of rational beings. (This
stage was established as beginning forty days from con¬
ception for a male child, ninty for a female.) Not un¬
til 1969 when science had made the discovery that a
female egg existed in the womb before the sperm entered
the woman did the Catholic Church declare all abortions
These facts make it clear that females have never
had a direct part in discovering or defining their
physical processes, or in the development of medical
techniques that could give them more control over these
processes. During the nineteenth century male doctors
finally applied medical knowledge to women in child¬
birth. Male scientists and male doctors explained
what she needed to eat, what was harmful to her. Male
psychologists, male psychiatrists began to trace the
causes and effects of her physiological makeup. Birth
control devices were manufactured.
Today the choice offered to females is sexual acti¬
vity with or without motherhood, but only certain
classes of women are able to acquire or afford the con¬
traceptive devices that for the first time in history
give females release from expecting pregnancy. Poor
women still add child after child to the masses. Birth
control is seen as population control; the chemistry of
the pill behaves like an anti-fertilizer in keeping the
crop of the people to a predictable size. It is no
longer necessary that many children be born, in order
that there be some to survive. But the decision to
have children is imposed from above by the male hier-
archy of science, education, and opinion which invar¬
iably blames her for her female condition - a condi¬
tion she is trained to respond to with maternal beha¬
vior. No other satisfaction or individual existence
is allowed her. Like women of all previous societies
she is not distinguished from her sexuality. If she
is poor, it is assumed that she reproduces the poverty
that degrades her, that she is responsible for choos¬
ing to be helpless and insignificant; and yet it is
clear that very few women, poor or rich, have access
to the knowledge and techniques that would give them
the control over their bodies that is basic to making
a free decision about their role in society.
A woman is like a bag of dates; when full, she is use¬
ful in more ways than one, when empty she is of no fur¬
ther use and can be thrown away.
Middle Eastern proverb
A cradle consecrates the mother of the family,
and more cradles sanctify and glorify her before her
husband and children, before Church and home land.
The mother who complains because a new child presses
against her bosom seeking nourishment at her breast
is foolish, ignorant of herself, and unhappy.
Address to Women of Catholic Action
26 October, 1941
THE "PROTECTION" HOAX
Laws especially designed for the "protection" of
women are, in reality, legally sanctioned forms of
exploitation. The principle behind them is similar
to the "separate but equal" hoax. The fact that em¬
ployers and male employees invoke these laws in order
to discriminate and exploit women is undeniably clear
if one bothers to take a look at any of the pamphlets
put out by the Women's Bureau of the United States
Department of Labor. For instance, 11.2 million women
were living in poverty as of 1966. Today 5.2 million
families are headed by females; many of them work but
cannot make enough to pull themselves and their fami¬
lies out of poverty.
Often when jobs are available in the community
women aren't considered qualified to fill them. In
the Department of Labor literature the occupations
women hold are referred to as the least rewarding and
the least rewarded. It was calculated that manufac¬
turing companies realized profits of 5.4 billion in
1950 because they paid women less per year than the
wages paid to men for similar work. The median income
for a female headed family is $4,450 a year. Why are
women cheated so consistently in regard to the wages
they receive and the jobs they are allowed to take?
Certainly the 'weight lifting' provisions for
women and the state hour laws for women are contri¬
buting to her oppression. In the first place the
fact that women and children are included together
in the hours' laws infers that a woman has the status
of a minor, is not quite mature enough to regulate
her own hours but must abide the dictates of the male
law makers for her own protection. She is limited
to a maximum of 9 hours a day that she can work, and
to 48 hours per week. Of course, this prohibits her
from working overtime and making time-and-a-half or
double-time pay which would surely be a boon with her
meager wages. Instead, if she is piled up with work,
she has to try and do it all in the hours allotted to
her by law, while the over-time pay will go to some
man who isn't hampered by restrictive legislation.
How fortunate for employer and/or male employee 1
The weight lifting provision is of the same op¬
pressive restrictive nature. In every industry, un-
less she uses some kind of a device to carry the
weight/ a woman isn’t allowed to lift more than 40
lbs. She is not allowed to push 75 lbs. or over. She
can be fined up to $50 if she does. Women are also
barred from high paying construction jobs on the same
grounds. In the foundries and the coal industries
women aren't allowed to pick up more than 25 lbs. to
carry. This contradicts the fact that many women pick
up and carry around children who weigh as much or more
than 40 lbs. f lug groceries/ and move furniture. Of
course/ all this is done in the home/ so she is not
depriving any man of a job or wages. Nobody would
think of fining her or turning her jobs over to men.
These restrictions are just one way of keeping women
in the lowest paying jobs.
For example/ 1.7 million women are employed as do¬
mestic workers at $1/299 full time per year. 4.3 mil¬
lion women are employed as service workers/ (cooks/
waitresses/ nurses/ etc.) at $2/815 full time a year.
1.9 million as sales workers at $3/103 full time per
year. The unemployment rate for women in 1967 was
5.2% compared with 3.1% for men. These obsolete laws
are helping to contribute to the inferior status of
women in the labor force.
The history of mankind is a history of repeated in¬
juries and usurpations on the part of man toward wo¬
men/ having in direct object the establishment of ab¬
solute tyranny over her...He has created a false pub¬
lic sentiment by giving to the world a different code
of morals for men and women/ by which moral delinquen¬
cies which exclude women from society/ are not only
tolerated/ but deemed of little account in man. He
has endeavored in every way that he could to destroy
her confidence in her powers, to lessen her self-res¬
pect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and
Declaration of Sentiments passed at the first
Women’s Rights Convention/ Seneca Falls/ N.Y., 1848
SELF DEFENSE AND THE PRESERVATION OF FEMALES
Sexism will exist as long as males are able to use
the threat of physical force against females. All
males exercise this privilege of physical power re¬
gardless of the material reality of their own bodies,
because it, like all other sexist privileges, is based
on the lack of that privilege for the female. So, no
matter how weak or strong a male is in comparison to
other males, he is always stronger than a female. All
male privileges are interpreted by sexist societies as
being privileges for the female also. The privilege
of self protection for all people does not exist (
because it denies the necessary sexist relationship of
strength over weakness. So, in order to maintain her
weakness, the female is given the privilege of male
protection. And this is extended in society so males
become the protectors of all people - children and
But a contradiction arises between this image of
the male as protector and the real experience of
females. Part of the daily experience of all female
people is some form of physical intimidation by males.
Every female person knows the humiliation of being
constantly harrassed and solicited by males. Having
her person talked at, whistled at, yelled at, grunted
at, hooted and howled at, visually dismembered or
stared and winked at by males everywhere - on the
street, at work, in school, at home - everywhere.
Females suffer the humiliation of having parts of
their bodies, the breasts, genitals or ass in most
cases, grabbed, pinched, slapped, patted, poked and
fondled on the street and in public places by male
strangers against their will or desire. Females are
terrorized by male exhibitionists. Are stoned and
chased by male adolescents. Wives are repeatedly
raped, beaten and brutalized by their husbands. Thou¬
sands of female children, adolescents and adults are
attacked and forcibly raped by males in sexist soci-
ties, not to mention the rape of supposedly "consent¬
Every now and then in the rising and falling
tensions of the contradictions between females and
males, some one male takes upon himself the entire
burden of a whole society's hatred of females. The
phenomenon of sexism reaches its logical outcome in
the mass slayings, stabbings, rapings, beatings, dis¬
memberments, disembowlments and stranglings of females.
Bodies are found ripped apart, slashed to ribbons,
tied up and laid out in degrading and humiliating
postures representing the sickest fantasies of the
sexist mind. The apologists for sexism dare not bring
up the question of the miserableness of the relations
between females and males in general. The individual
males who engineer these mass purges against females
do not come from a yacuum. They are the legitimate
representatives of the sexist nature of the real
world. Their actions speak for all males as the
category of people who are the tormentors of females,
the category of people who possess the power of life
and death over females. They say that their superior
physical strength and male protection is a privilege
for females. But it is not. It is a means of ex¬
ploitation and control of females. Male people are
the enemy of female people and females must exercise
self protection against their enemy.
The concept of self defense for females is derived
from a strong Female Liberation consciousness which
itself comes from a direct understanding of the
twisted and degraded lives of females, from an over¬
whelming sense of helplessness and impotence - in
other words, of being female. For centuries the con¬
tradiction between females and males has been devel¬
oping, passing from one level to another, constantly
changing but never destroying itself. For that to
happen these eons of experience must be transformed
into a concrete body of rational, conceptual know¬
ledge which will then become a powerful weapon in the
hands of females. This is our understanding of the
process of change in all things and, in particular,
of the oppression of females. The concept of self
defense for females is part of this world outlook that
recognizes that the basis of change lies in the
material conditions of peoples* lives (being female)
and that once those conditions are understood (become
rational knowledge) people will necessarily do what
is required for themselves to maintain existence. In
other words, we do not think that women will choose
to study self defense but that they will find them-
selves unable to choose not to.
Jeanne Lafferty and Evelyn Clark
By GOD. My hand will go through this brick.
And with it will go weakness, and hand lotion.
Pink dresses and the fear of catcalls.
I kneel here, grimly reverent.
As though at an altar of revolution
VIOLENCE AND SELF-DEFENSE
Some women object to Tae Kwon Do (or any similar
martial art) as self-defense because it is violent
and to them violence is abhorrent. Such an attitude
reflects certain conceptions of the nature of women
and of the nature of violence which serve to maintain
the oppression of females.
Traditional ideology places "Woman” on a pedestal.
Females are seen as qualitatively different and better
types of beings than males. Women are not supposed
to be violent. Violence is brutalizing. Women are
saved from this brutalization by being protected by
men. Internalizing this view of themselves, many
women reject the use of violence in self-defense be¬
cause they fear becoming like men - who are scarred
by the use of violence.
The fact is, however, that females are no better
or worse than males. They belong to the same species.
Furthermore, men have not done women any favor "pro¬
tecting” them from having to be violent. It is women
who are "scarred" by violence because they are its
victims. As long as women try to maintain a supposed
moral superiority and refuse to stoop to violence, as
long as they depend on men to protect them, men's
power to oppress them is maintained.
Women also object to violence for "moral" reasons.
The pacifist notion of violence sees it as always ab¬
solutely wrong - no one has the right to be violent.
Violence, however, cannot be considered as an abstract
concept, divorced from material conditions. In re¬
ality, exploitative power relationships ultimately
rest on violence. Hence, it is no accident that op¬
pressed peoples have always been urged to be non¬
violent. Pacificism is simply ineffective against a
violent oppressor. Liberation cannot be achieved
until they come to understand that they are justified
in using violence to free themselves.
Men's power over women is based on violence or the
threat of violence because of superior physical
strength. It is utterly unrealistic to think that
violent attacks against women can be countered effec¬
tively in any "nice" way. A woman who refuses to
risk hurting or killing an attacker is risking her
life. Women have to be convinced of their absolute
right as human beings to defend themselves by what¬
ever means necessary.
"Social scientists tell us that the sadist who
stalks the woman and child is a sick man-although the
question of why he should be permitted to communicate
his perverted plague to the innocent has never been
answered. But the most obvious thing about the ra¬
pist, sexual criminal, or child-assaulter is that he
is a coward. He will not use his energies in the
world of grown men, because a man can fight back .
Since this type of criminal advances only into those
areas of least resistance, it becomes urgent that
every female in America prepare herself to offer
swift, devastating resistance to this most disturbing
category of crime.
...One cannot deal honestly with a thief or gently
with a murderer. Power Karate places in a woman's
hands that very power which enables her to deal with
a potential killer on his own terms. The author does
not believe in 'fitting the punishment to the crime.'
Any man who would physically threaten a woman or child
must be dealt with in the severest possible way.
Otherwise what begins as a minor molestation may turn
into a major attack. The practice of Power Karate
for fifteen minutes a day, a few days a week, arms
a woman with instant responses to contain any threat
right on the spot.
...SHE MUST BEGIN PREPARATION NOW, TODAY, IMMEDI¬
ATELY, FOR BY TOMORROW MORNING THE DAMAGE MAY HAVE
BEEN DONE, AND AN AVOIDABLE PERSONAL DISASTER ESTAB¬
LISHED AS AN IRREVOCABLE FACT."
How to Protect Yourself with Karate
One question that is always asked in discussions
about self-defense and at the Tae Kwon Do demonstra¬
tions we have given is "Have you ever had to use your
training?" Using such training does not simply con¬
sist in defending yourself against a physical attack.
The self-confidence that comes from knowing how to
defend yourself often prevents a physical attack.
Men attack women in the street because they can in¬
timidate women easily. They fear no reprisal. Some
of these men would not even approach a woman who
If a man at first abuses you verbally/ you can an¬
swer him, confront him instead of falling apart. In
all likelihood he will back down. Being able to
answer verbal abuse, which is often an end in itself
rather than part of a more serious attack, means that
you no longer have to suppress the indignation felt
at obscene taunts, that self-destructive rage which
builds up and is always directed inward because there
is no way to let it out without risking more abuse.
Those of us who have studied Tae Kwon Do for some
time have come to realize that we use our training
constantly. We cannot consider learning a martial
art simply as a means of self-defense in the street.
Most women are not very strong; they require help
(usually from stronger men) to lift heavy objects.
They often tire easily from physical exertion. The
strength and endurance we have developed already
through systematic physical training has made us
much more competent to deal with everyday activities.
We are beginning to realize that the psychological
consequences of developing a strong body are tremen¬
dous. The female body is supposed to be a beautiful
object. Women often internalize this attitude and
view their own bodies as things to be looked at rather
than used, decorated rather than developed. The body
is separated from the self in a schizoid way rather
than being felt as an integral part of the self.
The self-body split which women often experience
presents the material world as something alien to the
self, something uncontrollable. Self-confidence de¬
pends upon an integrated self-body. The growth of
the self as whole and autonomous depends largely upon
a sense of oneself as a competent physical being in a
material world that can be understood/ a world in
which we can actualize our potential. The development
of a strong useful body is central to self realization.
To my astonishment/ I found that women/ in spite of
knock-knees and the fact that for centuries a respec¬
table woman's leg had not even been mentionable/ could
at a pinch outrun the average London bobby. Their aim
with a little practice became good enough to land ripe
vegetables in ministerial eyes/ their wits sharp enough
to keep Scotland Yard running around in circles and
looking very silly. Their capacity for impromptu or¬
ganization/ for secrecy and loyalty/ their iconoclas¬
tic disregard for class and established order were a
revelation to all concerned/ but especially themselves
...The day that/ with a straight left to the jaw,
I sent a fair-sized CID officer into the orchestra pit
of the theatre where we were holding one of our belli¬
gerent meetings, was the day of my own coming of
age... For two years of wild and sometimes dangerous
adventure, I worked and fought alongside vigorous/
happy, well-adjusted women who laughed instead of
tittering/ who walked freely instead of teetering, who
could outfast Ghandi and come out with a grin and a
jest. I slept on hard floors between elderly duch¬
esses, stout cooks, and young shopgirls. We were of¬
ten tired, hurt and frightened. But we were content
as we had never been. We shared a joy of life that
we had never known.
Ida Alexa Ross Wylie
Women have been denied good health. Their bodies
have been made into pitifully weak representations of
the human body. Women have been made into weak depen¬
dent beings. Having no physical strength of their own
to rely on, they must depend on men for the simplest
of things. Females are denied physical competence.
Because they are not even fit to do ordinary things,
it is a chore to walk any distance, climb stairs,
stand up for any length of time, to do common daily
physical activity. Is this obvious weakness innate?
Are females inferior by their very nature?
Anatomy books show many differences between the male
and female body. Besides primary and secondary sex
characteristics, many things such as fatty deposits,
the thigh slanting inward, sloping shoulders, saddle¬
bags, thin necks, small waistline are shown. The
books are basically correct. This is a true descrip¬
tion of how women appear today. But the books do not
explain why women look this way, how they got to be
this way, why they stay this way. They do not say
that one's shoulders will slope if one has no muscles
to give them form, that one would have a tiny waist
if one has no abdominal and lower back muscles. Women's
necks are barely strong enough to hold up their heads.
The physical growth of females has been stunted. Their
human potential has been denied them. When females
have been denied the opportunity to develop strength,
when they are taught that their weakness is^ their
strength, when their soft, muscleless bodies are dis¬
played as beautiful, how can one expect that females
would have developed strong, healthy human bodies.
It is no accident that male bodies are called
builds and female bodies are figures. Male bodies are
useful, powerful. The female body is something only
to be looked at, a sketchy outline of the human body.
This can be seen most clearly by examining the clothing
ascribed to women, the image they are supposed to re¬
present. Skirts, sleeveless and neckless tops expose
legs, arms, shoulders, necks. They are displaying
their very weakness as beautiful. They segment the
body into portions to be looked at. Women's bodies
are for looks only.- They are something to be dis-
played, not to be used. Men's bodies aren't broken
down into pieces like that. Their legs aren't seen
as legs, but as part of their whole body - a useful
But this myth can be destroyed. Females can shrug
off their shackles of weakness and have healthy com¬
petent bodies. Look at female athletes - swimmers,
track people - those privileged healthy few. They do
not have sloping shoulders/ pinched waists, saddle¬
bags. On the contrary, they have good healthy builds.
Many of us have personally observed this change in the
female body. We have been studying Tae Kwon Do (Korean
karate) for several months. When many of us began we
were quite overweight, couldn't bear to stand up for
any length of time (even a subway trip), found walking
hard. Slowly we can see and feel our bodies change.
After hard practice, dumbbells, situps, and good eating
habits, we can see muscle replacing fat. Our bodies
look and feel different. They look more like what is
thought of as the male body. We no longer have bulging
saddlebags, big hips, and a distorted waist. We now
see that the so-called "feminine body" is a myth, that
there is no real basis for the differences in the male
and female bodies. Except for the genitals and secon¬
dary sex characteristics, all else is contrived. The
real difference is in lack of muscle.
A whole scheme of ideas, conditions, expectations—
oppression—has evolved around the biological, anatomi¬
cal differences between male and female. It is now be¬
lieved that females are weaker than men, that there
must be a division between the things that men can do
and those that women can do. This belief will continue
to be perpetuated until we stop it. It must be crushed
at its root. Females must change the basic condition
that keeps them enslaved. Females as a group must be¬
come healthy, strong, and physically competent. Young
females must begin learning and training now so that
they may never be impotent. All females must learn how
to take care of themselves. We must learn self-defense
to protect ourselves against the other sex which seeks
to keep us "in our place", dependent, something less
ON THE PRODUCTION OF WOMEN
Once we have grasped the nature of our oppression,
it is not enough to talk about it. We must concretely
change aspects of our social existence in everyday
life. The categories this society gives us to work
with are "woman" and "man". It is quite obvious that
we are female human beings, and that in negating and
throwing off that oppression which is "woman" (the
cultural "sphere of being" encaging females) , we must
create our own form of existence. "Man" is not the
appropriate alternative. Through our appearance,
action and collective behavior we must actively produce
As long as a female is a woman or girl—wears femi¬
nine clothes, long hair, make-up, jewelry—in spite of
all her rationalizations she continues to produce her¬
self as a woman in this society*s particular mode of
production. Consciousness depends not only on stric¬
tly economic position, but on the material conditions
surrounding the social person we produce—how we dress,
talk and act. To change consciousness, one must change
Wearing comfortable clothing such as pants and
sturdy shoes is not only a matter of convenience,
though, of course it is a pre-requisite of freedom
in daily life to wear clothing that is functional,
sturdy, and that provides freedom of movement. Our
em-bodied self-definition, psychologically, socially
and practically, is also intimately bound up with the
type of clothes one wears and the significance attached
to them. One thus learns to handle and coordinate
one's body in specific ways as a sexed person, becoming
conscious in specific ways of different areas of the
Perhaps the most striking way skirts are related to
this, for example, is in producing a consciousness of
legs. In a skirt legs are exposed—they are to^ be
seen . That becomes their primary significance. In
pants, on the other hand, legs aren't thought of as
"legs" per se . They are that part of the body that
is used for walking, running, or kicking. Rather than
being lifted from the whole active body to be viewed
(and in skirts, you exercise no control over this) and
treated as objects, they are intimately bound up with
the subject's own movement and activity. Just look
at the way people place their legs in sitting on the
subway—and what gets stared at. Skirts clearly limit
your position. One stands differently in pants. One
Arms and breasts—in "blouses" the purpose of the
clothing is to create the illusion of, or draw atten¬
tion to, a peculiarly feminine figure. In more func¬
tional jerseys or shirts, arms become part of an
active, self-controlled and used body. Or take our
faces—the very addition of make-up is referred to as
"putting on your face"—a face that must flirt and
smile, be a certain type of mask. Hair, like clothing
and stance, is defined according to sex. It is usually
displayed by women as hair , when it is deliberately
curled or long. And if one is dressed sensibly, in
pants, it remains the most obvious identifying mark of
being a woman.
What does it mean to dismember our physical-based
personality this way into masks, images, fragments at
the request of a generalized male other? The very re¬
sistance women feel to giving up these things—skirts,
make-up, long hair—is a good indication of how deeply
imbedded these "trivia" are in the almost moral com¬
pulsion to produce an image, an acceptable sexual
One of the important aspects of these sorts of
changes is that it enables us to negate a specifically
feminine type of competition. Dressing plainly,
wearing short hair, is not primarily apeing males,
but is an attempt to do away with the trap of image-
producing, the activity in terms of which women have
created their alienated identity since childhood.
Individually, the person is split into the "I" who
organizes and creates the self as commodity in response
to demand, the image, and what I imagine the response
to be in the one who looks on and evaluates, the be¬
holder that I allow to create me, in turn, as an ob¬
ject. Socially, it is impossible to have any base for
a community with other females as long as one is vying
for the attention of males. The feminine image enters
into competition with other women producing images.
We judge other women then in a continual sizing-up
pro cess--not even in terms of how we are toward each
other, but in terms of how this or that self-presen¬
tation does in market-place of female objectification,
what a "good-looking woman" is, defined by the gener¬
alized male beholder.
When for so long our goals and gratification have
been defined as succeeding in this twisted image-
producing, approval-inducing, morally and physically
crippling behavior, changes force us to ask the ques¬
tion "Who am I if I am not a 'girl'?" And they free
us to begin to answer who we want to be as free female
Food is breath, clothing a protection.
Gold an ornament, cattle lead to marriage.
A wife is a comrade, a daughter a misery
And a son a light in the highest heaven.
exerpt from one of the Rig-Veda Brahmanas
"Insecure men are made nervous hy successful
women. These men need women’s weakness to prove
their own masculinity. When women are not submis¬
sive, there is a male "backlash"."
Women in American Politics
FRIDAY NIGHT STUDY GROUP EXCERPTS: April 3, 1970
Nancy : The more women are getting together and getting
themselves together the more men feel threatened.
Three different men I know that don't know each other
and who have some degree of consciousness about the
women's movement... they all know for example, that
I'm learning karate and they know other women who are
and each one of them has told me within the last month
or so that he is thinking of learning karate l None of
them has ever been interested in this before and they
really feel threatened. "Yes, women should know it"
but all of a sudden it's hitting them that suddenly
the woman is going to actually have more physical
power than he is. They're going to have to learn
karate and be better at it.
Janet : Do they talk about it honestly or do they say
that it's just as dangerous for them to be on the
street as a woman?
Nancy : No, none of them see it as a reaction to wo¬
Holly : They say that they're learning it merely as a
defense against "police repression"!
Janet : Yeah, or the rising crime rate!
Nancy : They say "It's something I've been wanting to
do for a long time. It sounds great."
Holly : Uh huh, "Now that I think about it...It's really
necessary for me."
Nancy : I work part-time as a waitress and the chef is
German and very authoritarian. He knows how I feel
about women's liberation but he pulled me aside and
said he really felt threatened by me. He didn't say
it in those words but he said first, "What you need is
a man" and second he said that I represent a very
strong challenge to him. He verbalized it that way.
Holly : "To conquer you, a liberated woman!"
Nancy : Because here I am and someday even though I
haven't met him yet, I'm going to meet my male match.
This other man at work who is very strong physically
and was in the Marine Corps in Vietnam seven years
ago, who's done alot of street fighting used to tell
me about his exploits and now that I've been learning
karate his attitude toward me has suddenly changed.
Holly : Not so impressionable now that you have that
knowledge, too, and have a greater necessity to use
Nancy : It*s a subtle change but he feels that whenever
he says anything that's asserting his chauvinism, I
counteract. It’s a physical response. He's very wary
all the time. In Fanshen the men would talk about how
the women needed to be liberated yet they wouldn't let
their wives go to the Women's Association meetings.
"We can't let our women get together." This relates
to what was said earlier about the oppressor who turns
his hostility, focuses on in-faction hostility. Women
always have gripes about other women, gossip, etc.
You're forced to fight against women who are with you.
You're encouraged by the oppressor.
Holly : What it's important for us to recognize is that
in-group fighting is often a result of fear against
lashing out openly against men. That our hostility is
suppressed and redirected against people of our own
sex, against ourselves, our children or against other
powerless groups of people. We adopt a submissive
behavior when dealing with the very people that con¬
tinue to humiliate us. One of the nearest things to
an in-group attitude is often refusing to show special
attention to men as we have continually done in the
past. Relating to women and becoming secretive to
men's eyes is really threatening. They don't know how
to cope with women who enjoy being together and who
act very differently than when they're with men. Two
different ways of acting...
Janet : About withdrawing affection, I realize now how
completely you're expected to give to them in order to
have them talk to you. It's not enough to talk the
way men talk with each other. You have to just lavish
attention on them or else they just don't come around.
Now that I don't manufacture something to say if I
have nothing to say, they no longer pay attention.
You're supposed to hang on their every word, ease the
silence with a clever remark or another question about
what they're doing.
Holly : I always felt the extreme tension of silence
with men. The whole responsibility was on ME to ask
HIM what he was thinking. What deep and important,
powerful thought could be in his mind!
Nancy : Whereas it's perfectly natural to be with wo¬
men and not say anything.
Holly ; Yeah, but men feel as though something is going
on behind their backs when women demand privacy of
their own or begin to like each other, to prefer each
other's company rather than theirs. This often leads
to the statement, "The longer I live with them, the
less I know them." What mysteries!
Holly : In the past few months I've had dreams about
using karate on the streets. Striking out in de¬
Janet : You DO dream and it's so related to what you're
doing and thinking. This friend of mine at work who
isn't taking it but hears me talking about it...SHE
started dreaming! She had one dream where she wanted
to know karate and she didn't. She told me that the
other day and she thouqht, "Here's why I need it!"
Holly : Or daydreams... all of these reactions come
from somewhere. They're real, they're real symptoms,
real reactions against real fear.
Nancy : When I was younger I dreamt often about being
chased, etc. Now the kinds of things that happen you
have the power to deal with the situation. There is
a conclusion to them, on some level, and you can, they
do serve as release as well. They're not something
that reinforces your helplessness. When I was younger,
it was the SAME thing over and over, in different forms
but the same helplessness.
Holly : I found that alot of fantasies I had were real -
of terror of being followed, confrontation. Sometimes
I was being followed, sometimes not, but my fear was
real, and the situation was a potential situation of
Janet : Now when I'm in my apartment alone I'm SURE of
what my reaction would be. I KNOW I'd clobber the
hell out of him! I find all sorts of things that
bothered me but I never had any way of organizing them.
Before, every tiling was pointless to think about because
there was no way to deal with them. Now there is.
Is it so hard to understand that emancipation, the
right to full humanity, was important enough to gen¬
erations of women, still alive or only recently dead,
that some fought with their fists, and went to jail
and even died for it?
The Feminine Mystique
TWO LETTERS FOR WOMEN
I became more confident as I began to shape up as a
woman (thanks to Richard) • I trained myself to see
how I looked to men, although I might have said then
that it was to other people. It was quite a painful
process because I realized how dowdy and ridiculous my
clothes were, how clumsy I was. Desperately, I wanted
to be appreciated in any way possible. Richard saw
every effect of my external appearance and responded
to certain kinds of behavior; clearly I ought to
imitate what was important to him if I were to be
significant. Even when I questioned some one thing,
the way he noticed me was never doubted as essential
to my being "beautiful". Other men repeated the sort
of concern he had according to their own preferences
of what was marvelous in a woman. Every new man re¬
quired a readjustment of style, not of usage. It
seemed as if I was drastically changed by new rela¬
tionships with first Farman and then Kenneth, yet they
wanted particular kinds of women, liked or loved me
for the services I performed for them - services of
admiration, attention, actual physical care, sexual
availability, perception about aspects of life they
could not allow themselves to consider (for instance,
other people's feelings). These services did not
I remember that at this time when I was so absorbed
with making an image that would appeal to a man, I
put down other women. The sense of competition was
degrading. The same behavior I practiced to be
sexually desirable made it impossible for me to feel
valuable apart from the effort to please. Mistrusting
myself, I feared other women, who might possess more
skill or more natural attributes. The nature of my
experience as a child, isolated from other children
and subject to the arbitrary power of adults to ad¬
minister affection, turned me to the inward creation
of an imaginary, personal and unique empire (ruled by
me under a different name). This choice did not
develop in me the outward qualities of perception and
sympathy that are seen to radiate from a "mothering"
woman. Instead I was inclined to accept myself
passively as a sensual being. Not so much a woman
good in bed, a healthy handsome girl, but as an
artistic object to be selected by a man of taste. A
woman with peculiar habits, strange glances, a mystery
that could suggest a painting or a novel. This magic
I could create, I thought. I didn't rely on my face
or figure to be sufficient attraction, or on being
amusing and clever, or on good nature - peculiarity,
uniqueness was the only method that seemed to suit a
person with the name and history of Hilary.
All of these emerging thoughts and purposes reveal¬
ed themselves in friendships I had with other women.
I was continually jealous, envious of every little
gain a man or woman made. It seemed as if I could go
nowhere. Then when I began Art School some confidence
appeared. There could be a career. Something could
be done that was objectively measurable' and did not
imply a positive or negative judgment upon me. But
this hope was not real. Art seemed to offer a way for
me to extend who and what I was into an objective
world. I hoped to define myself in an immense terri¬
tory, that I had assumed did not belong to me, was
forever closed to me as a person unfamiliar with tech¬
niques of controlling reality. There had been no
evidence that I could control material conditions.
Art School, it turned out, did not contradict this.
First of all I was female. My painting therefore
was personal therapy before it was an objective
statement of colors and forms ("artistic truth"). I
did paint concentrating upon my own vision; everyone
did. But my subjectivity was qualitatively not the
same as the subjectivity of any one of the male
painters. What I recognized, what was real to me
within my axperience, made no sense in confrontation
with what they individually or taken all together as
men described. At the time, i presented this fact to
myself as the result of the way I lived compared to
the way they as men were able to live. They removed
themselves from friends, lovers, all people when
human demands conflicted with Art. They were sure
that even if they did not paint excellently yet, they
could find out the truths that would enable them to
Even while I doubted every stroke I put down on a
canvas and clung to mythology as the only recogniz¬
able outcome of my childhood, I did begin to be able
to talk about real situations. There was something in
my head besides fancies and emotions. Females are
continually made helpless by being fed cast-off ideas.
They are made to believe that intuition, internal
feelings can create events, but there is absolutely no
science in this. They develop tools of manipulation,
not of direct control. And then they are encouraged,
as I was, to use their imagination to fill in all the
blank spaces in their education; that imagination is
good enough power for a woman's mind to operate on.
She is cute and amusing, much the way a child is funny
when it misinterprets reality on the basis of its
faulty knowledge. A female does not need to disci¬
pline her mind, to try to be accurate or objective.
This would lead her to understand how to master
nature, instead of her remaining in a confused and
terrifying limbo, always seeking male clarification.
I know you went about becoming yourself in a dif¬
ferent way. Perhaps part of that lies in your Jewish
background with its tradition of strong women in the
family. I had some knowledge of such women from the
southern upbringing of my mother. Although she rebel¬
led against becoming enduring and sustaining, there
was no pattern of strength that gave her freedom from
needing a man to complete herself.
By going to New York University and then taking a
solid job away from your family you had a base from
which to begin building relationships with people that
were not so obviously sexual. I can see better how
this was possible (although difficult) for you, and
how I had to do quite differently. Our desire was the
same - to be close to people, to be important to them.
I assumed my worth was to become concrete through sex.
Because I concentrated on sexual relationships the
contradictions between men and women grew clear; men
only loved me when they could control me (or assumed
they could win control of me) and this power they
claimed always weakened and ridiculed my existence as
an independent human being. Not that men are really
independent of women; they need their services, their
submission desperately; still they are able to remove
their minds from any attachment to a female, to sub¬
ordinate their dependency in ways that leave them
free to give first attention to Reality, Nature (or
whatever abstract you may term it) and only second
concern to other human beings.
We have done different things but our choices have
been dictated within a female realm. What have been
pointed out to us as strengths (intuition, sensitivity,
for example) have kept us agreeable to an arrangement
of power that defines, by reserving all initiative
thought to male people, that females as a caste can
never determine their own destiny.
Long before I heard that females as a caste were
oppressed by males (SEXISM) I believed that "commun¬
ism" was a more humane system than capitalism. My
Christian grandparents were devoted to that idea. But,
as a child, I had no understanding of the terms used.
They were abstractions - as remote in time and signif¬
icance from daily life as heaven and hell. Only it
made more sense to talk about material things,
than about angels or miracles. I felt open to
the use of the word "communism"; it could be good if
it meant a change in the way things were. For it was
clear that my life, other people's lives and almost
everything I looked at were distorted and crazy. In¬
separable from what was called beautiful was something
horrifying. The joy/pain syndrome; the love/hate
cycle. People would say: that is the way the world
is. And suggest that I adjust and make the best of
it; if I could only get to smiling and being confi¬
dent, life would go along very well. I really thought
there was something quite wrong in me that I could not
enjoy life; a pleasure quickly made me miserable. I
mistrusted the way things had to happen, myself for
distrusting Reality, and everyone else for seeming to
In college, when many people start realizing that
adult life is not what has been taught them as child¬
ren in a family, I began to forget about how I dreamed
of the world changing. All my energy went into be¬
coming intelligent, attractive, able to function
without being terrified of my helplessness - the
helplessness that is the root of childhood. It was
an intensely selfish period. I don't like reviewing
it at all as it is quite humiliating to see how mis¬
informed and misled I was about what I had to do to
be a good ("desirable") human being.
When I began to learn about Female Liberation all
this work was overthrown. In fact, I had more work to
do to get rid of the destructive habits I had adopted:
an obsession with dress, a gentle and fragile manner,
artistic conversation and poses, long hair. All of
this confused and retarded my thinking, distracting me
from discovering what I really needed. For a long
time I just tried to get all the bad conditioning
clear, to see what could not remain the same as before.
I kept doing some of the same things: going to school,
trying to be intelligent by studying book after book,
but not making sense of them. Finally I had to de¬
cide to stop being a student. Even then I couldn't
explain why that had to happen. It was critical to
learn and I was not sure how I could learn outside of
school. I doubted if I had the strength to push my¬
self out of daily lethargies. But to continue to take
in information I could no longer use was ridiculous.
The importance of knowing a specific subject or of
writing an imaginative, original paper was not going
to make me the respected person I had anticipated. I
could be "important" (that was how I expressed my
craving then) only if I could control myself; that
control came not, as I used to believe, from imagin¬
ative thought expanded outward, but from an under¬
standing of the material conditions shaping me.
Understanding myself as a female came to examining
myself within the concrete situation of capitalist
society and of knowing what were the conditions under
which women had previously been forced to live. When
all the struggle I had been going through for ten
months culminated in this realization, it struck me,
simultaneously, that this was the way Marxist thought
was meant to be arrived at. It was necessary for me
to know who I was and that was a concrete problem that
could be best handled objectively, scientifically -
not personally and emotionally as I had always done.
No one told me this would happen. I just had to see
my experience as a female apart from the way I had
thought of myself as a "woman". Then, starting to
read Marx and Engels and Mao, I found that their
ideas were useful tools for going on further. My
school education gave little information for this; it
tended to keep my mind isolated from daily conditions.
Perception and thought were divided and antagonistic;
the language taught me compartmentalized phenomena
and turned me into a spectator, an individual, separ¬
ate from history and from society. As an individual
I was totally responsible for my fate and was immobil¬
ized by "free" choices. There was no way to decide
what the society was responsible for in my degrada¬
tion until every aspect of my life could be seen as
part of a material context that permitted certain
development while inhibiting other aspects of human
What I want to stress is that only a small number
of women in Women's Liberation, and almost none in
Female Liberation, have had any sort of real training
in political thinking, or in radical action. I was
always alienated from and intimidated by groups doing
work like that. I desperately wanted to change the
way I was living and the behavior of the whole damned
society, but this change had to be basic, so that
every person would participate as a thinking being in
this new society. As long as I was weak, incoherent,
possessive and dominated there was no way I could
come to a different and better sort of behavior. I
would simply continue submitting to injustice, brutal¬
ization, continue committing self-destruction when not
striking out at others still weaker and more oppressed.
This awareness was at the root of my mistrust of
movements, reforms, etc. It is clear that Female
Liberation is a consciouness that requires that
material conditions change: if females learn self-
defense they are no longer weak and controllable.
From these changes come further thought and a theory
about the process by which ideas and practice have
brought about real alteration in people (revolution).
In my work I undertake to alter what has traditionally
been woman's existence. From this comes respect for
all female people, who are coming to or will be coming
to fight for their human rights.
PEACE AND LOVE,
THE REVOLUTION IS HERE.
ALL SETTLE DOWN,
AND HAVE NO FEAR.